§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Ms Bridget Prentice.]9.34 am
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford)
As a London Member, a Minister with special London responsibilities and a long-time London resident, it is a great honour for me to open the debate, and it is a great pleasure to do so with an excellent attendance for a Friday, particularly on the Back Benches behind me. I very much welcome the many hon. Members—many newly elected to the House—who have come to show their support for the Government's policies for the future of London.
The fact that we are having this debate so soon after taking office demonstrates the priority that we attach to London, and our determination to see early action to right its wrongs—wrongs that have seen our capital city rudderless and without a voice for 11 long years, following the spiteful, short-sighted and anti-democratic decision of the former Government to abolish the Greater London council. The consequent lack of leadership has seriously damaged the ability of our capital city to fight effectively its corner in the national and international arenas and has left London showing all too many signs of a lack of co-ordination in planning, transport and in the state of its environment.
This is not the first time that the governance of the capital has been debated in this House or, indeed, the other place, but it is the first time for almost 20 years that there is a Government in Westminster who give the governance of our capital city the priority that it deserves.
The fact that London is the only western capital without an elected citywide government is not just an affront to the people of our city. It also puts London at a disadvantage. That is bad not only for London but the country as a whole. It is time that there was a new deal for London and, following the decisive verdict of the electorate in London and, indeed, throughout Britain in the recent general election, a new deal there will be.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
I apologise for intervening this early in the Minister's speech, but I do so for this reason. When the Minister uses the term "London" in his remarks today, will he have a rigid idea in his mind about London as presently defined, or will he—among all the other reviews that he will no doubt discuss, in tune with the mood of the 690 moment—be prepared to review what London is for the purposes of the argument that he will probably go on to make about governance, mayors and so on?
§ Mr. Raynsford
The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I shall try to respond visually. This is the map of London following the general election—
§ Mr. Raynsford
I am sure that Conservative Members do not need a painful reminder of the political map of London following the election on 1 May.
The right hon. Gentleman will know perfectly well that the geographical boundary of London has been set for some time and it embraces the 32 London boroughs and the City corporation. That was the former GLC area. That is the area of London for London government purposes, and that is what we are talking about at the moment. The issue of the future geographical boundary of London will be covered in the Green Paper that will be issued in due course.
There is, quite rightly, widespread public interest in the subject of how London is governed. That was well demonstrated by the packed houses and animated discussion in the series of debates on the future of London organised by the Architecture Foundation and the Evening Standard last year. There is also a very real determination among Londoners to ensure that we create the right structures for our city. I share that determination. Londoners know that the current system of government in the city cannot be allowed to continue.
The public debate—although not, I suspect, the political instincts of the neanderthal tendency of the Conservative party—has moved on from whether London should have a strategic authority to what form that authority should take. That is also what London's business community is saying. Yesterday's Financial Times reported research by the London Chamber of Commerce, which was reinforced by a letter in today's Financial Times from the director of the chamber of commerce, confirming that 75 per cent. of the capital's business leaders view the present arrangements for governing London as inadequate. It said:a city-wide authority will bring a much needed sense of identity and enable us better to promote and defend the interest of the capital nationally and internationally. We warmly welcome proposals to make decision making in London more transparent and democratic".We agree. Our manifesto made clear our commitment. That is why, following a referendum of Londoners to confirm popular demand, we will introduce legislation to provide for a strategic authority, made up of both a directly elected mayor and a directly elected authority.
The new authority and mayor will work together for the good of London, speak up for the capital city's needs and plan for its future. They will not duplicate the work of boroughs, but take responsibility for London-wide issues such as transport, planning, policing, economic regeneration and environmental protection.
That will be a totally new style of strategic authority, drawing on the lessons of the past from this country and overseas and designed to meet the challenges of the future. It will not be a new GLC. The clear message from business, the voluntary sector, local government and the 691 public in London is that they want a streamlined and effective authority that is able to tackle the real problems that confront London today.
§ Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)
The hon. Gentleman says that the plan would not be for a new-style Greater London council. I take it that he accepts that the old-style GLC did not serve the purposes of London correctly, because he proposes something different. If that is true, he presumably endorses the previous Government's decision to alter the structure of London government by doing away with the GLC.
§ Mr. Raynsford
The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening when I opened my speech with a reference to what I described as the spiteful, short-sighted and anti-democratic decision of the former Government unilaterally to abolish a tier of government without giving the people of London any say at all in the matter. We deplore that. We believe that times move on. We are talking about a different situation and the needs for the 1990s and the 21st century. The structures that we propose are appropriate for that new period.
The GLC performed many valuable services and the people of London were outraged at the former Government's decision to abolish it, but we would not claim that everything was right, and we recognise that, in the GLC's previous arrangements, which were put in place by a Conservative Government, there was too often confusion between the boroughs and the GLC. That is why, in our new framework, we seek a clear separation so that the new strategic authority will focus only on strategic issues that have to be dealt with across London as a whole, whereas the boroughs will continue to be the main agents for service delivery at local level to ensure that proper separation and to minimise the prospects of the overlap that did occur with the GLC.
§ Mr. Forth
While on this point of definition, which will be central to the development of the argument as we go on, is the Minister satisfied that he has a clear idea in his mind of the likely division of responsibilities, powers, duties and perhaps tax-raising powers between the boroughs, the strategic authority and the executive mayor? That is a three-way split, not a two-way split. Is he satisfied that he has cracked that one?
§ Mr. Raynsford
The right hon. Gentleman strays into territory that 1 think, with reflection, he may wish he had not entered into. If he wishes to consider the current structure of government in London, he will find not a three-way split, but approximately a 150-way split. Perhaps he has seen the organogram—I think that that is the technical word for it—devised by Mr. Tony Travers, an expert on the subject, at the London school of economics. The organogram shows a maze of lines going in every direction, trying to bring together the huge, myriad organisations, many of them totally undemocratic and unaccountable, that contribute to the government of London.
We are about ending that confusion and lack of accountability. We are about creating a simpler, streamlined, effective structure that will give the government that Londoners need and that will distinguish 692 properly—as I said in my answer to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant)—the strategic functions that must be dealt with at a strategic London-wide level, from the local functions that are best handled by the London boroughs. There is no duplication and no overlap in that. It defines separate functions and ensures that they are discharged at the appropriate level.
Londoners want an authority that is able to fulfil the strategic and democratic needs of this great city. They want it to be inclusive, to listen to the views of Londoners and to build a consensus. They want it to rid London of the confusion, duplication and waste that they currently see and to help the city develop in a sustainable way.
The authority must, therefore, be streamlined and effective, with strong leadership that is able to get things done. It must be free of the draining and undermining effects of undue bureaucracy. It must focus on providing a powerful voice for London and on sorting out the real problems that London faces. It must be directly accountable to Londoners and reflect the priorities and aspirations of local people, local businesses and other organisations, not least in the voluntary sector, that work in our capital city. It will work closely with all of them and promote partnership and joint working, but, at the same time, it must be structured to avoid duplication of responsibilities and the opportunities for conflict and waste.
Over recent years, one of the healthy developments in London has been the creation of sectoral and geographical partnerships, often bringing local authorities, business and the community together in practical programmes to tackle problems and issues. The list is too long to name them all, but I should like to assure them that this Government fully support their efforts and intend that the new authority should help them to build on what has already been achieved.
I should also like to commend the growing involvement of the business community in projects and activities that promote the capital and deal with its problems. We are fully aware that, without the business community, London would be nothing. We intend to ensure that the new authority works to support the business life of London and that it works closely with the business community.
London needs strong leadership to tackle its problems and to seize the opportunities. For the past 11 years, there has been no answer to the question, "Who runs London?" What a demeaning position for one of the greatest cities in the western world. [Interruption.] Conservative Front-Bench Members seem to express surprise at the question of who runs London. I remind the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) that he recently aspired to be the Minister with responsibility for London, although he represented a constituency somewhere in Suffolk. What an insult to London that the Minister given designated responsibility for speaking for Londoners did not represent a London constituency. We are not going to allow that nonsense to continue.
§ Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what the answer would be to the question of who runs London when there is both a mayor and an executive authority? Who runs London—the mayor or the executive authority?
§ Mr. Raynsford
If the right hon. Gentleman had the patience to wait, he would hear, and if he waits a little longer, he will find the answer fully spelled out in the Green Paper that we will publish in due course.
§ Mr. Raynsford
The right hon. Gentleman expresses surprise. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that we are pressing ahead quickly with our reforms. Our first priority will be to publish a Green Paper next month setting out the key principles that we intend to follow and seeking Londoners' views on the details. We are committed to restoring democratic, citywide government, but we genuinely want to hear the views of London organisations and Londoners before coming to firm conclusions on how it is best done.
There will therefore be a three-month consultation period, enabling Londoners to tell us what they want, and London organisations to consult their members and provide their considered views. We want to be sure that the new authority commands the respect of the people, meets their aspirations and is a body that they can do business with.
We shall shortly introduce legislation to provide for a referendum to coincide with the borough council elections next May. That will give the people of London a chance to confirm whether they wish us to establish the new authority, which will be fully described in a White Paper before the referendum.
The referendum will also give the new authority the democratic credibility that it needs, and—I ask Conservative Members to listen carefully at this point—will make it more difficult for any future Government of a different political persuasion, if there ever is one, to abolish or alter its responsibilities without taking into account the views of the people of London.
§ Mr. Raynsford
I shall give way first to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone).
§ Mr. Forth
I offer, as an initial thought on which the Minister may wish to ponder, the question whether he would envisage building in, as part of the consultative process through the referendum, an option whereby boroughs are asked whether they want to be part of the great new futuristic structure. That strikes me as the ultimate in consulting local communities.
§ Mr. Raynsford
Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman did not listen carefully to my response to his earlier geographical question. We shall consult the people of London because we see the new body as a London-wide authority. It will not be a duplication of the boroughs. We certainly do not want all the focus to be on the delivery of services by boroughs. [Interruption.]The right hon. Gentleman seems to have difficulty in understanding that idea.
694 When we talk about transport and environmental protection, we cannot work on a borough-by-borough basis. Pollution does not respect borough boundaries, and transport does not end at them. We must have a citywide approach, and an authority that considers the needs of the whole city.
I am sure that, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman, who is at times an intelligent Member, will appreciate that for the services in question it is not possible to provide opt-outs that would allow individual boroughs to say, "We shall not contribute to the needs of the capital city, although we are part of it." That is a preposterous suggestion.
§ Mr. Raynsford
I said that I would give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East. I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman afterwards.
§ Mr. Livingstone
Will my hon. Friend explain the form of the question to be put to Londoners? Are they to be offered a "take it or leave it" package, such as, "Do you want a mayor and an authority? Yes or no?" Will they be allowed to choose whether they want a mayor and an authority, or just an authority without a mayor? If we want real democratic legitimacy, Londoners should be able to vote on both parts of the structure separately.
§ Mr. Raynsford
My hon. Friend raises an interesting question. The detailed question to be put in the referendum will be decided between now and the end of the year, when we come to frame it. There will be plenty of time to discuss the exact wording.
However, I remind my hon. Friend that the Labour party won the election on a clear manifesto commitment to introduce a new strategic body comprising a directly elected mayor and a directly elected authority. We are committed to introducing that manifesto pledge, and we shall ensure that the people of London see us honour it.
§ Mr. Gummer
May I take the Minister a little further along with the geographical point? Let us take a borough such as Dartford, whose boundaries with the borough of Bexley are sometimes difficult to distinguish. If Dartford decided that it would like to be part of the strategic authority, would it be allowed that choice? Conversely, if another borough—Bexley, let us say—decided that it did not want to be part of the strategic authority, would it be allowed to make that decision?
The difficulty is that the hon. Gentleman is pre-empting the area of the strategic authority. Perhaps he would like to think again about whether the present map of London as he sees it should be subject to some change at the edges.
§ Mr. Raynsford
I put it to the right hon. Gentleman, in the most charitable possible way, that he, as a former Secretary of State for the Environment, will know that 695 issues involving boundaries and the division of responsibilities between local government organisations cannot be approached lightly, and generate a considerable amount of hot air, which he himself had to deal with in the previous Parliament.
I do not believe that it would be a helpful way in which to carry forward our clear manifesto commitment to give the people of London a strategic authority if we entered a prolonged and probably unproductive debate about precisely what the appropriate boundaries should be.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Conservative party established the Greater London council boundaries some years ago, and that in the intervening period he continued to legislate for London on the basis of those boundaries. They are the definition of London for the moment. I do not preclude the possibility of revisiting them in the future. However, to enter an exercise that is usually arcane, complex and ultimately, as the right hon. Gentleman, on reflection, will recognise, not always very productive, would not be the most appropriate way to proceed now.
§ Mr. Gummer
Surely that is a very "conservative" view of London. Is this not new Labour, which will change the entire world? Is this not the appropriate moment to ask ourselves whether, in the great surge of newness and novelty, the arcane and old-fashioned boundaries laid down by some past Conservative Government might just possibly be improved?
§ Mr. Raynsford
The right hon. Gentleman is trying to have it both ways. For one moment, I thought that he was about to say that he was changing his own view. We have seen some interesting examples of that recently. Some of his former colleagues, who campaigned until 1 May on the platform that the Greater London authority plan to which Labour was committed would he an absolute disaster, and would have no benefits for London whatever, have jumped ship extraordinarily rapidly, and announced their candidacy for the post of mayor within days, if not hours, of the electoral verdict on the right hon. Gentleman's party. For a moment, I thought that he, too, was about to declare his commitment to the brave new world that Labour is introducing.
We shall have no hesitation in introducing radical proposals involving a fundamental change in the way in which London is governed, which will give a bright future to local government and create an incentive for innovation. The Minister of State, Departments of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong), highlighted only yesterday the extent to which we shall encourage innovation—and where London leads, others may follow in the years ahead.
We have no anxieties at all about the radical nature of our proposals, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not time for him—
§ Mr. Raynsford
Bear with me; I am answering an intervention from the right hon. Member for Suffolk, 696 Coastal (Mr. Gummer), and I indicated that, after that, I would give way to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).
I was saying that the former Secretary of State might now think that it was time for him to perform a U-turn and accept that the position that his party adopted before the election—of opposing Londoners' right to their own directly elected authority—was a mistake, and that he, like Mr. Norris and Lord Archer, might conclude that it would probably be a good thing to have a strategic authority and a mayor for London.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Following the good question asked by the hon. Member for Brent, East, the former leader of the Greater London council, may I remind the Minister that the Labour manifesto did not commit itself to a one-question referendum? I therefore ask him to consider that matter as open for discussion.
Secondly, may I ask the Minister to be equally open on the question that gave his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister problems earlier this week—the sequence of events for the next 12 months? Will he at least consider whether, if we are to have a referendum, we can have a Bill on the referendum after the White Paper on the proposals?
§ Mr. Raynsford
The hon. Gentleman asked a couple of questions, and I shall take them in sequence. He knows what we said in our manifesto, and we regard that as fundamental. We are in the business of putting into effect our manifesto commitments and we shall not in any way resile from them. However, as he also knows, we are considering carefully the wording of the question to be put in the referendum and shall reach a view on it. I shall certainly listen carefully to any representations made by the hon. Gentleman or others in the months ahead.
As for the hon. Gentleman's second question—will he remind me what it was?
§ Mr. Hughes
My second question concerned the exchange between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on Wednesday as to the timetable of Bills, Green Papers and referendums.
§ Mr. Raynsford
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have already spelt out the timetable, but I shall repeat it. We shall publish a Green Paper next month, and that will be followed by a three-month consultation period on its proposals. We will then introduce measures to allow the people of London an opportunity to reach a decision through a referendum.
A White Paper before the referendum will set out the detailed conclusions of the Government on the precise form of the new strategic authority that the people are being asked to endorse in a referendum. There will be an opportunity through the White Paper for Londoners to understand fully the proposals that they will be asked to endorse in a referendum.
§ Mr. Hughes
I accept what the Minister says, and that is a perfectly proper starting point. However, there is a strong case for saying that the sequence of events should be the other way round—that the White Paper should come before we consider the Bill and the referendum, as people should know what they are being asked to vote on.
§ Mr. Raynsford
The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. People should vote on a clear proposal to establish 697 strategic authority, and they should know what is envisaged. The detailed Bill giving effect to that authority should come after the people have given their endorsement in a referendum to the point of principle. There will then be a full opportunity in the House and outside for people to put their views to us and to try to influence proceedings. There will be an opportunity for a full and proper discussion of the precise arrangements. That is the proper order that we will follow.
§ Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)
May I preface my remarks by congratulating my hon. Friend the Minister on the speed with which he has introduced a clear manifesto commitment that was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of London? During the consultation process—either in the Green Paper or elsewhere—will Londoners have an opportunity to deliberate on whether there should be electoral reform of the way in which we elect both the mayor and the Greater London authority, so that Londoners have the same opportunity as those voting for a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly to find new ways of electing representatives?
§ Mr. Raynsford
My hon. Friend has been a great advocate of the reform of London government and of the concept of a mayor. She makes an interesting point on one of the most crucial issues that will need to be determined during the consultation period—the method of election for the strategic authority. I hope that she will accept that, at this stage, it would be improper for me to say more than that we will consult fully on that matter when we publish the Green Paper, and that we will set out our views on how we might proceed.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I am grateful to the Minister, who has been most generous in giving way. In an answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the hon. Gentleman referred to authorities on the edge of London that might wish to change their relationship, and raised the possibility of a future referendum or even additional questions on the referendum paper. During the election campaign in my area, the governance of London was not an issue—although my area wishing not to be part of London any more was.
§ Mr. Raynsford
We have covered that issue in some detail, but I must make it clear that I did not suggest the possibility of a future referendum. I said that boundaries are not fixed immutably for ever and that it is a subject to which we may return, but I made no commitment on a referendum.
London clearly has a range of considerable strengths which place it at the very top of any league of world-class cities. It is well known that its financial and business service sectors are second to none; that London is a leading destination for international tourism, and is becoming more and more popular by the year; and that London's arts, culture and entertainment are truly world class and lead the way in terms of innovation and new ideas. There are many more successes to which I could point, and many more that the new mayor and assembly will strive to deliver.
For all those successes, there is a downside, reflected in the heavy price that many Londoners have to pay for living in the city. In my area of responsibility—and that 698 of the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), who will reply to the debate—the issues of air quality, arising from the inexorable rise in traffic and congestion, the ever-present problem of homelessness, which is a deep shame to our city, and the growing numbers of long-term unemployed combine to undermine the hopes and aspirations of London and Londoners.
It will come as no surprise to many hon. Members that London has more unemployed people than Scotland and Wales combined—more than 300,000 at the last count. What is worse than those shameful figures is that more than 44 per cent. of London's unemployed have been out of work for a year or more. The proportion is also growing rapidly—up from 29 per cent. just five years ago.
Sixteen of the most deprived local authorities in England are found in London—many represented by my hon. Friends present in the Chamber this morning—and 14 of the 20 most deprived wards in England are found in London. Not only is London home to widespread deprivation, but the depth of that deprivation is severe. Some 64 per cent. of the most deprived local authority housing estates are in London and more than 700,000 tenants in the capital are reliant on housing benefit. Those statistics paint a very different picture from the one frequently used to portray London.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I am glad that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to the problems of poverty, long-term unemployment and deprivation throughout London, which, as he rightly said, are the worst in the country. However, the authority is not due to be elected until 2000. Do the Government intend to establish an economic development agency to promote employment prospects ahead of the installation of the new authority for London, so that we can begin to tackle those serious problems?
§ Mr. Raynsford
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and he will know that the Government are committed to introducing measures during this Session to allow the establishment of regional development agencies throughout England. In London, we will proceed in parallel to establish a mechanism for regional development activity, which will have the added advantage of the democratic structure created by the Greater London authority to ensure that the regional development agency in London is subject to full democratic scrutiny.
The statistics paint a different picture from that frequently used to portray London—a picture of despair, neglect and waste, beneath the real successes and prosperity of our capital. They paint inexorably a picture of a divided city. One of the challenges facing all of us with responsibility for London is the need to overcome the very sharp divisions between wealth and poverty which so often sit side by side in our capital. Around the edges of the City of London—perhaps one of the richest communities in the world—we see areas of the deepest deprivation to be found anywhere in the western world.
I pay tribute to the excellent campaigning work by the Evening Standard, which a couple of years ago drew attention in a series of in-depth articles to the appalling quality of life endured by far too many people in east 699 London. These divisions are unacceptable in a civilised society. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), who intervenes from a sedentary position, is an example of those divisions in London. He knows about the wealth of London. It would be appropriate for him to give some thought to the poverty that exists in our city.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)
Perhaps my comment was inaudible to the Minister, as it did not question the tenor of his argument. He mentioned the Evening Standard. I thought it appropriate to remind the Government that there is perhaps just enough time before the honours system is revised to give a knighthood to Mr. Max Hastings, who played such a conspicuous part in bringing this debate about and who, by his support for the Labour party, materially affected the result of the general election.
§ Mr. Raynsford
The right hon. Gentleman refers to the way in which many of the barons who run the press in this country have made an interesting change in their political allegiances in recent months. In the interests of not intruding into the private grief of the Conservative party, I will say no more about that important shift in public opinion. But I have paid tribute to the Evening Standard, and it is the tribute that is important—not the hollow gong that goes with it.
§ Mr. Raynsford
I have given way on a number of occasions and I now wish to make progress. There are many Members who wish to speak in the debate, and it is time we proceeded.
Our task is to build a united and successful London. We are a one-nation Government and our mission is to establish a one-city government in London, a citywide government that is inclusive, works in partnership with organisations and people, and, above all, works for the benefit of every citizen of London.
Finding lasting and sustainable solutions to the capital's problems will be the very stuff of the new authority. London has waited far too long for the opportunity to take charge of its own affairs. Our proposals will demonstrate the Government's commitment to local democracy and to maintaining London's rightful place at the top of the league of world cities. We want London to be a city in which everyone is able to take part in and share the capital's economic success.
We propose to introduce a slim, workmanlike strategic authority of a kind never before seen in this country. We propose a directly elected mayor, elected from a population of nearly 5 million voters, who will lead the fight against poverty, congestion and pollution and vigorously promote our capital city at home and abroad. Only by putting Londoners back in charge of London can we be assured of achieving our aim.
§ Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)
It might have been more helpful if the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) had started his speech the 700 other way round, first discerning London's problems and then explaining how his propositions would deal with them. Instead, he started with the solution and ended with the problems. One of the first questions that we must ask ourselves is whether the proposals will help us towards that solution.
The hon. Gentleman perfectly properly said that London was a huge success and that it was at the top of every one of the international leagues. That might suggest that a reordering of government was not necessary. He went on to say that, in many areas, London suffered and could do better. I agree: he is quite right to point out that London, like most capital cities, has the extremes of success and failure. We need to concentrate on the improvement of the bad and the extension of the good.
The hon. Gentleman listed the problems, saying that he was most concerned about air quality, homelessness and unemployment, and that the strategic authority would do something about them; yet I did not hear him saying—perhaps I missed it—that homelessness would be one of the elements with which the authority would be concerned. Indeed, one of the problems with the Greater London council was that it had overlapping arrangements.
The hon. Gentleman has not so far managed to maintain the argument in its totality: he has not explained how the mixture that he presents will solve the problems that we can all agree on. Therefore, I want to examine the proposals—not in a spirit of unhappiness, as the Labour party won the election and did very well in London, which entitles it to makes its proposals—but because the Opposition also have every right to ensure that those proposals are as good as they can be. That is precisely what I intend to do.
Let us consider the proposals. First, there is the proposal about how we are to consider the issues. I have a genuine constitutional concern, as the referendum sits less easily in this country than in others because we are a parliamentary democracy. Therefore, the order in which things are done is extremely important, and the hon. Gentleman should think very carefully about that.
The problem with referendums is simple—in fact, they have often been used in many countries for the opposite of democracy—because a general, vague question is asked and the answer that people give is then used as a democratic excuse for doing whatever the Government they wanted to do in the first place. It is therefore important that, in making their decisions, the people of London know precisely what they are about.
A Green Paper has been suggested. Some of my hon. Friends may tease about the constant references to more and more commissions, investigations and so on, but I shall not do that. Obviously, it is perfectly reasonable to produce a Green Paper—as the proposals are not very precise—to discuss it, and then to produce a White Paper; but it seems to me that it would then be necessary to produce a Bill so that people can know precisely what is being proposed. That is so important because a parliamentary democracy is designed to ensure that the details are argued out in such a way as to ensure that all the difficulties are considered. It may be that, on reflection, the order proves to be wrong.
§ Mr. Gummer
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I am not asking him for a solution now. I merely want 701 him to think along those lines. He may not change the conclusion that he has come to, but, in dealing with those matters, it would help if the Government at least gave the impression that they were thinking through the issues and would think again if sensible propositions were put to them.
§ Mr. Raynsford
I have already made it clear that we shall listen to sensible propositions. We have no difficulty with that. The right hon. Gentleman's argument might carry a little more force if the previous Government had followed the course that he now advocates when they abolished the Greater London council. No Bill was published in advance for Londoners to comment on; there was no opportunity for Londoners to express their view, and the GLC was abolished as an arbitrary act. That is a very different course from the one that the present Government will follow.
§ Mr. Gummer
I had not intended to be tempted into telling the hon. Gentleman exactly what I thought about his comments on the GLC, the abolition of which was extremely widely supported in London, and which was so expensive that he does not want to reinstate it. He used such a good phrase that I wrote it down: he said that the new authority would be of a kind never before seen in this country. That is because the kind of authority that has been seen before in London was so wholly unacceptable to Londoners.
It is most interesting that, in this debate, a phrase has crept out of the woodwork that was made illegal by Labour party apparatchiks during the general election campaign: the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) referred to a Greater London authority—it slipped out. Labour party members were not allowed to say that during the election campaign, because it might have brought back all those memories. If a public opinion poll asks whether people want a Greater London authority, the answer is no, no, no. The whole idea was to propose something different.
The Greater London authority that people remember is the authority that the Labour party turned into a leviathan whose tentacles were as far-reaching as those of Mr. Mandelson. The hon. Member for Barking said recently that she could be a bit freer because Mr. Mandelson's tentacles did not reach—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows not to refer to another hon. Member by name.
§ Mr. Gummer
The hon. Member for Barking did not put it this way, but she said that the tentacles of the Minister without Portfolio did not reach where she was. The tentacles of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) reached all over London to such an extent that it felt as though he were throttling it.
I thought that it would be a valuable move quite simply to accept that the Labour party has won the election and has made its proposition, and therefore to consider how we can make that proposition as effective as possible.
§ Mr. Forth
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for taking us through the important questions of the sequence. Does he imagine that the prospect of tax-raising powers—whether for an authority or for a mayor—might come into 702 the equation at some stage, as the Minister has already given a slightly contradictory view about whether he is prepared to review the definition of London for the purposes of our discussions and the proposals?
§ Mr. Gummer
I hope to get on to tax raising because, when it comes to increasing tax in Scotland, the question is asked, but so far—I am sure that this is a matter of omission—there has been no commitment to ask that question of the people of London.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I do not want go into history, but the right hon. Gentleman's party set up the Greater London council and its powers remained unaltered throughout its existence. I ask him to be less confrontational. While I agree with him about the timetable, as not even the Labour party won the support of a majority of Londoners who voted, and as we need to proceed with public consent, does he agree that the proper course, if the public agree to the proposals, is for party, like the others, to support the proposition that London should be governed by Londoners? Will he commit his party's support if Londoners clearly voice their support?
§ Mr. Gummer
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will, when I have completed my investigation of where we should be going, see exactly where I stand. I have great difficulty with two of his points. First, I have difficulty with the concept that London is not governed by Londoners, because there are elected authorities all over London. Secondly, I have difficulty with his assumptions about the area of London with which we are concerned. I want to explore that. I hope that he will listen because I am trying not to be confrontational. Indeed, I was not being confrontational until the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich tempted me. I am afraid that, like Oscar Wilde, I fell for the temptation. I will not fall again unless tempted again.
§ Mr. Gummer
I was going to come to that important point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I shall give enough answers to ensure that the Government will also have to give answers when I get to that point, but I must continue my argument.
The first question is by what process we decide the matter. I do not suggest that any particular method is perfect, but it is important for the people of London to know what they are being offered, because there are some very real questions. Who is going to make the decision?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I would like to see the right hon. Gentleman's smiling face from time to time. He has his back to me.
§ Mr. Gummer
I am happy to do that; the pleasure is mutual.
703 I want to be sure that the people of London know who is in charge of what. I notice that there has been a subtle change in presentation since the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who spoke on London for Labour in opposition, ceased to do so. In those days we talked of two different things: an elected mayor and a strategic authority. That was because two different bits of the Labour party favoured the two options. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras favoured a strategic authority but not a mayor, while the Prime Minister favoured a mayor but was not keen on a strategic authority; so we got both. Now we have a sort of conflation of the two. The people of London must know which is to be the voice for London.
What happens if the directly elected mayor has a voice different from that of the strategic authority? Who will be the voice for London? Will it be the strategic authority with all its powers, or will it be the mayor? If the mayor says that London should host the World cup and the strategic authority, which has to get the money for it, says that it should not, who will win? The people of London need to know.
I know who will win: the Government. They will win because they will decide. If it is not to be the Government, there must be an internal mechanism to decide whether the democratically elected mayor is superior or inferior to the democratically elected strategic authority. We have to know who is in charge. If they are both in charge, the confusion will be significantly worse than any portrayal of the present situation.
We must then ask of what the authority and the mayor are in charge. The Minister made a slip at the beginning of his speech that I forbore to mention. He said that no other capital city in Europe—he may have meant the world but I think that he meant western Europe—lacked a strategic authority. Paris does not have one.
§ Mr. Gummer
Paris's authority is not citywide. Its mayor does not control Paris; he controls the central area. It was for the Government to say whether London would consist of the area displayed on the map that the Minister vainly tried to show us. The example of Paris shows that a city can have an effective voice without having the same sort of coverage. The Minister has shown that that voice was loud enough for him to believe that the strategic authority covered the whole of Paris. He has obviously thought that for a long time, but it is not true.
It is difficult to see how to provide for the strategic needs of London in the narrow way suggested by Labour. That is why I ask over what are the strategic authority and mayor supposed to preside. Let us take transport. What sort of strategic policy for transport in London can possibly be contained within the boundaries of the old GLC area? Conservative Members, and many Government Members, know that transport in London means dealing with an area stretching from Margate to St. Albans. It can be done no other way. That is why London's transport strategy must cover an area much wider than that of the GLC.
On the other hand, in dealing with the Thames, one would not want the London borough of Ealing to be centrally involved. One has to be able to reach beyond the 704 GLC area upstream and below it downstream. That is why the strategic authority argument does not work. Each policy matter demands a different geography for an effective strategy.
That is why the Minister cannot avoid the question of what area constitutes London. It is no good saying that he will leave that for the future. If this is really a radical policy, and the Minister has a list of fresh, new-minted policies for easy reference, why does not he face up to the question that lies behind all of this? How can we have a strategic authority over an area that manifestly differs as between different services and that is much larger for many things than the old GLC area and much smaller for many others?
For example, the Minister mentioned a strategy for the theatre. That would largely, if not entirely, involve the four central London boroughs of Westminster, Camden, Lambeth and Southwark. The strategic needs are represented by an association of those boroughs; but dealing effectively with the Thames involves a different strategic area. The Minister must face up to some of those issues.
Having shown the Minister that his strategy does not work for transport, let us consider air pollution. He bravely said that air pollution knows no borough boundaries. It does not; but does he think that it does not cross from Bexley into Dartford? What sort of concept is that? Half the air pollution in London comes from the north of the continent: it blows over from the rest of Europe. Is that to be part of London's strategic policy? The hon. Gentleman would have a London authority with a foreign policy on air pollution. We would go to the GLC and its nuclear-free zone notices.
The hon. Gentleman cannot defend his case for air pollution policies in London on the basis that the problem is wider than the boroughs. Of course it is wider than the boroughs, but the area that he proposes would be no better at dealing with air pollution than the areas that now do so. In fact, it would be much worse.
§ Mr. Gummer
In a moment.
Major air pollution strategies must be carried out within the European Union rather than nationally, because pollution is blown over from Europe, and, as a contributory cause, we blow 50 per cent. of our pollution over there. There must be an overall policy on the quality of motor cars and the terms under which they may be sold. That must be done on a wider basis, but there must be a national strategy for air pollution. The previous Government were the first Government in this country to have one.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he has an awful habit of turning his back to the Chair.
§ Mr. Gummer
I thought that I had remembered, but I have not. I am sorry.
The next level is the national level, but, below that, the local level is important. That is where particular measures can be introduced for particular transport difficulties. The 705 hon. Gentleman proposes that that should be not a local decision, but a Londonwide decision. What we will get is what we had with the GLC. We will have a strategic authority deciding generally and implementing locally. There will be the usual rows between the strategic authority and the local council, when it should be the local council that decides on local measures to deal with the local problem of air pollution.
§ Mr. Merchant
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the strength of his argument and the absurdity of the Labour party's position is borne out by the contradiction in its policy document "A Voice for London"? It says:The harmful gases and particles which are damaging people's health recognise no local government boundaries.In the very next sentence, it says:They and their harmful effects can only be countered by London-wide policies.Is that not nonsense, and does not my right hon. Friend's argument prove it to be so?
§ Mr. Gummer
My hon. Friend is right, and that was shown by the reversal in the order of things in the Under-Secretary's speech. He started with the solution, and assumed that the problems were resolved by that solution, instead of starting with the problems and asking what solution would bring help. If one starts with the problems of air pollution, one discovers that what is required is a Europewide policy covering motor car emissions, a national policy on air quality and local—and I mean local—policies to deal with local hot spots. A regional policy is not required, because that would provide no extra help and would merely create confusion.
§ Ms Hodge
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have listened to him carefully. For a number of years, he was the Minister for London. Sadly, the committee that he chaired and the work that he undertook were in secret. One presumes that, as Minister for London, he had some concept of his responsibilities in that role. What were they, and why is he having such difficulty defining the responsibilities that we want to devolve to the people of London in a democratic forum?
§ Mr. Gummer
The hon. Lady kindly makes my point. I had responsibility for the Thames way outside the GLC area and right down to the sea. We had the first Thames strategy of any Government. The needs of London demanded a strategic control much wider and further than the old GLC area. We recognised that, for the purposes of the river, we had to consider the interests of London way beyond the old boundaries. The hon. Lady makes my case.
When I was Minister for London, to get the London borough of Camden to come to terms with the London borough of Westminster to provide the same parking arrangements in theatreland, I had to deal with two different boroughs together. That was a small area, and, perfectly reasonably, I did not have to cover the whole of London. When I dealt with transport, I had a Minister 706 responsible for transport in London whose remit reached to Margate and up to St. Albans, because that was necessary.
The Government are not devolving to the assembly the strategic roles of the Minister for London and of the committee, which, far from meeting in secret, met with representatives from London and worked things out. The hon. Lady is not suggesting that those strategic powers be devolved to the assembly. She proposes that the assembly should have narrow powers to cover all matters in the London area as defined by the old GLC. The only part of the old GLC that the hon. Gentleman wants to retain is the area over which it ruled. He says that, in every other way, it will be a totally different, never been seen before, utterly new-minted authority. He knows that the old-minted authority was not acceptable to people in London.
The hon. Gentleman must seriously consider how the new authority will work. It cannot deal effectively with transport, air pollution or environmental protection. What additional environmental protection contribution is made by providing a strategic authority that can function only by telling local councils how they should operate? Environmental protection in every other area is handled either nationally or locally, which is a better way. Local circumstances can be very different. The London borough of Hounslow is nothing like the London borough of Brent. It is perfectly reasonable for the environmental problems of the locality to be dealt with locally.
The hon. Gentleman's argument does not hold water, unless he can explain to us where London is for the purposes of his strategic authority, and how he will deal with areas of policy that manifestly reach outside it. I use the example of the Thames. The GLC existed for a long time, but it never managed to have a strategic planning policy for the Thames. Everyone said that we could not do it, but we did. There is a strategic planning authority for the Thames: the boroughs must adhere to clear guidelines.
What will the future assembly do about a strategic policy, given that it will not cover the whole area? Labour Members will no doubt say that there will be partnerships between the boroughs above and below the river. Why will partnerships work in those circumstances and not when it comes to partnerships between the riverine boroughs in London? If partnership can deliver a strategic policy outside London, why not inside London?
The fact is that partnership has delivered a strategy inside London, and it works. It works because the boroughs are not frightened. There is the cross-river partnership of the four great central London boroughs. They work extremely well together, because they know that it is a partnership of equals, and that no one is in the background trying to take over their powers or tell them what to do. Why is Elmbridge prepared to work from outside the old GLC area with the boroughs inside? Because they all know that they can do so on the basis of an equal partnership.
The hon. Gentleman said that partnership was creative, that the Government were in favour of it and would build on it. One of the bits of Mr. Tony Travers's organogram refers to the complications of those necessary partnerships. If the hon. Gentleman means partnership, why must he have a bossy assembly to boss those partnerships around?
707 Partnerships are about equality—about sharing and working. It is because of that equality that we in London have delivered, as the hon. Gentleman says, a capital city that outclasses all other capital cities—the hon. Gentleman said that we were at the top of the list—in western Europe and beyond. In fact, the hon. Gentleman has understated the case; Britain now has one of the two world-class capitals. We have achieved that without an assembly and without an elected mayor. One might suggest that one reason why we have achieved that is that the system of governance in London has brought the whole of London together—nobody is bossed about. The business community, voluntary organisations and the democratically elected local boroughs have made the achievement together.
What Government in the world would say, "We have the finest capital there is; we are vying only with one other city in the world, New York; we are doing extraordinarily well; after 18 years of Conservative government, we can say that London is doing better than anywhere else so we must have an assembly—our need is desperate"? That is nonsense. The hon. Gentleman has applied a solution to something that is not a problem. When we did have a problem, it was owing to the over-governance, not under-governance, of London.
§ Mr. Raynsford
The right hon. Gentleman is praying in aid the business community. Will he answer the following question? If his argument is correct, why has the London Chamber of Commerce confirmed that 75 per cent. of the business community regard the introduction of a strategic, elected authority for London as a good idea? Why does its chief executive go on to make the following point in a letter in today's Financial Times? The letter states:Since 1986, London has been alone among the great world cities in being governed not by a single strategic body but by a farrago of governmental and non-governmental organisations. This have often resulted in poor policy co-ordination and a distinct lack of transparency in decision-making"?
§ Mr. Gummer
First, I was praying in aid not the business community, but the facts—the facts as rehearsed by the hon. Gentleman. Secondly, I did not refer to the letter, because it is not true. New York, our biggest competitor, does not have a strategic authority. The mayor of New York does not cover the whole of that great city. It is not true and the hon. Gentleman should not read out to the House letters that would, if taken seriously, mislead it because the statements that they contain are not true. When we have something that is not broken, we should not try to fix it.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
Did my right hon. Friend notice that, although the letter listed a number of points, at no point did it say that they were damaging business or the ability to create good business in London?
§ Mr. Gummer
My hon. Friend is right, but I prefer to keep to the facts, which are that the Labour party admits that London is doing better than anywhere else, and doing so without a strategic authority or a mayor.
If the strategic authority cannot deal with transport and environmental pollution because there is no advantage to be had in doing so, will it do something about housing?
708 We were told that homelessness was one reason why London had failed. Therefore, we assumed that the proposal would do something about homelessness. I must press the hon. Gentleman on that point. The Green Paper must state clearly what arrangements there are to be for the strategic authority to deal with homelessness.
I live in the London borough of Ealing. It is interesting that I was evidently not considered to be a suitable candidate as Minister for London even though I live in the London borough of Ealing and have lived in London for almost all my life—I know it quite well. One of the previous problems was that the GLC and the boroughs did not know who was responsible for housing. We now need to know whether homelessness will come within the authority's remit.^ The hon. Gentleman also said that the authority would be responsible for strategic planning—no doubt it would cover matters such as waste. Far from finding it difficult to deal with strategic planning such as waste, almost all the London boroughs came together to make a joint capital challenge bid for a strategic waste policy. They could do so together, through partnership—the advantage being that the partnership was not merely between the various London boroughs, but between those boroughs, the voluntary organisations and the business community. That partnership was the better and stronger because it was not threatened by the over-reaching and over-mighty operation of a strategic authority.
The Under-Secretary purposely reversed the order of his speech. He has not presented the problems, because his solutions do not resolve them. He has not described exactly what London will comprise or the area that it will cover. He has not told us how the authority will deal with strategic matters that obviously fall outside the old GLC area or are limited to districts that are smaller than it was. He has not described the divisions between the powers of the mayor and the powers of the executive authority.
Importantly, the hon. Gentleman has not told us who will pay for the authority. He has not told us how much the slimmed authority will cost or how the people of London are to decide whether they want to pay for it. That is why we want to know about the referendum. Its first question must be: "Do you want a mayor?" Its second question must be: "Do you want a strategic authority?" Its third question must be: "Do you want both of them?" The fourth question must be: "Do you want to pay for that?" The parameters of, and taxation arrangements for, that payment must be made clear if people are to answer that question sensibly.
Accountability is not about adhering to a vague proposition, but about whether someone wants to pay for it. All of us will vote yes to something that sounds good and costs nothing. We want to know how much the authority will cost. Until we know that, no Londoner can make a proper decision. Those questions are essential. If the authority is to be democratically accountable, the hon. Gentleman must ask the people of London those questions and trust their answers.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a fifth question to be asked: "Do you want the authority to be fairly elected?"
§ Mr. Gummer
I know about the word "fairly" as used by the hon. Gentleman, but I shall not be tempted too far. 709 One of the most unfair systems of election that I know is proportional representation in Germany, where the smallest political party elected is permanently in government, however the majority is made up. I know that the Liberals are longing for proportional representation here, as they would then be represented in every Government instead of only in the present Government, whom they manifestly support most of the time.
Having presented the solution and then turned to the problem, the Under-Secretary has not only failed to connect the two, but has presented a solution that will make the problem worse—a fundamentally damaging action. He is pretending that the governance of London can be divorced from the dominance of London, but it cannot. London is so dominant a force within England and Britain that it reaches way beyond any possible boundaries for its local governance.
Therefore, whatever the new assembly decides and whatever the new mayor decides—even if, surprisingly, they both decide the same—if, for national reasons, the decision cannot be implemented, the Government will adopt the same characteristically tough, direct and undemocratic attitude towards those two bodies as they have towards the House of Commons. If the Government do not allow the House to debate referendum Bills properly, they will certainly not listen to any assembly or mayor on issues where they think that the assembly and the mayor have made decisions that are contrary to their view of the interests of the United Kingdom.
We must not kid ourselves—there are now to be three groups of people governing London. There will be the assembly and the mayor and the Government and the boroughs and—if the Liberals have their way—there will be lots of parish councils as well. London, from being the most successful, least over-governed capital in the world, will become a less successful, more over-governed capital.
Of course, all that will help with unemployment. I have no doubt that a lot of people will be employed to run the assembly and the mayor. The new bodies will probably be put in the middle of Hackney, in the hope that that will deal with unemployment there. There is nothing in the propositions before us that will reduce unemployment in London by one person other than those who are taken on by the assembly. The Minister has made no case for an overall strategic authority doing anything about unemployment.
When he was asked by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) about regional development, what did we hear? We heard the most remarkably imprecise, obscure and peculiar answer, which was designed not to upset the hon. Gentleman. We did not gather whether anything would happen before 2000—it would happen in parallel. Does that mean that there is to be another authority, another organisation, another part in the organogram? Is that what the Government are suggesting? Or is the new agency to be part of what is being set up? We need to know. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman understood the Minister's reply more clearly than I did.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Before he finishes, will the right hon. Gentleman explain why unemployment in London is so high after 18 years of Tory Governments, why the Tory Government opposed having a referendum on the future 710 of London at the time of the GLC's abolition and, above all, why they did nothing to establish a serious economic development agency for London that could deal with chronic unemployment, which runs at 20 per cent. in my constituency? The point I put to the Minister was that I want the agency to be set up in advance of the establishment of a London authority, which would then take over its operation. The unemployed of London cannot wait much longer.
§ Mr. Gummer
That is a change of tune—the hon. Gentleman did not say that. My point is that there is no evidence whatsoever that such an agency will add to the number of people employed except by the number of people who are employed by it. I cannot understand how an agency dealing with the whole of London will do what is much more effectively done by the various partnerships that we already have, which deal with the reality in London. Unemployment in London is falling fast and, if the Government do not muck it up, it will go on falling fast. The truth is that it falls fast because of Government action and not because of some Londonwide agency.
The trouble with the Labour party is that, underneath all the flam, it is unreformed in the sense that it believes that Governments create jobs. Of course Labour Governments create jobs—they create jobs for the boys and girls who are employed by government. They do not create real jobs, and the problem with the proposal before us today is that it will increase the cost of London, decrease the attractiveness of London and drive people away rather than bring them in.
Coverage will be totally unsatisfactory because of the nature of London. The strategic authority will argue with the strategic mayor and both will argue with the Government. It is a recipe for confusion and distortion, and the truth is that the Minister does not even know now what he will propose in this respect, because he has not faced up to any of the real issues relating to the governance of our great capital city.
§ Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) did the House and the issue before us a great disservice by talking at such length with so little substance and a constant stream of points made simply to confuse.
There are points of weakness in the Government's proposals—it would be bizarre if, at this early stage, there were not—and we should concentrate on those. However, the only points of substance we heard from the shadow spokesperson were complaints about the Greater London council, which was set up by the Macmillan Government. Weaknesses were built into that council. If we go back and look at the Herbert commission report, we see that it was a good document, which said that the London authority should be a strategic one and should not overlap with the boroughs.
However, because the Macmillan Government did not want to create a powerful voice for London, they ended up creating a much smaller authority with a multitude of local powers and so set in train 30 years of duplication with the London boroughs. The right hon. Gentleman complains that the GLC never tackled the Thames. Of course we did not; we were not the authority for the Thames—there was a Thames water authority and a Port 711 of London authority. It was the failure to give the GLC real strategic powers when it was set up in 1964 that caused so many problems later. We do not need to be blamed now for the legacy of the Macmillan Government. We want to make sure that we now create a proper strategic authority.
I know that there is to be a business statement at 11 o'clock, so I shall not talk for too long, as many hon. Members want to make their maiden speeches. I have therefore decided to shorten my speech by deleting all the points on which I would have complimented my hon. Friend the Minister and agreed with him. I shall instead focus on the points where giving him a little comradely advice on the weak spots may help.
There is no problem with the area to be covered—as one flies into London, one can see that it is a clearly defined urban area. There is only one point at which the boundary could he varied in any meaningful way and that is at the border between south-west London and Surrey, which was changed by the Macmillan Government so as to exclude large areas from the GLC's coverage. However, there is no point in having a long-drawn-out row with Surrey in an effort to take chunks of it, and unless there is overwhelming demand from the people of Surrey to become part of the new and wonderful authority that we are setting up, we should accept the area of the 32 London boroughs as the obvious area.
I also agree with the range of functions. The only addition that I would make at this stage would he the major arts functions of London—the South Bank Arts Board, and so on. Those could well be brought under the sway of the new authority so that there was democratic accountability in that area.
I know that the question of a mayor or council will be dominant, but the real issue is revenue-raising powers. The Treasury has always feared London having any financial independence whatsoever. That is why the GLC, alone of every local authority in Britain, had to get a separate Act of Parliament every year for its capital programme. There was a long-standing reluctance in the Treasury to allow the old GLC any independence, so we were bound hand and foot, our capital programme determined every year by central Government.
Usually, we were right and the central Government wrong. Tory and Labour GLCs in the early 1970s asked for permission to build the Jubilee line out to docklands. My own administration repeated that request in the early 1980s. The Treasury first persuaded Jim Callaghan's Labour Government to block it and then persuaded 712 Mrs. Thatcher's Tory Government to block it. If we had been allowed to get ahead and build the Jubilee line extension, it would have been operating these past 10 years and we would have been in a much stronger position to create a more vibrant and economically dynamic community in the new docklands development.
I hope that, if we give Londoners the right to elect a mayor and council, the new authority will be answerable for its financial policies to the city and the people of London, not to the Treasury. That means that the new authority must have revenue-raising powers. At the very least, it must have effective control over existing precepts set by unelected bureaucrats on the quangos. There is no reason why the new authority should not have a degree of financial independence so that it can respond to the problems of London.
The key question is that of the mayor and the local authority. My first worry is that city mayors in America are the main focus of corruption in American public life. Organised crime, especially the mafia, has sought influence in mayoral chambers because a single individual has all the powers to award contracts and appoint to jobs. How reassured would the people of London have felt if, instead of being the leader of the GLC with 91 other members watching me like hawks, I had been running the show all on my own—awarding all those contracts and jobs on my own? No one would have been terribly happy with that.
The strength of a party system is that people watch those in office. I often felt that the Labour members on that authority were watching me harder than were the Tory members, but that was a strength. As an Americanism in this proposal, the idea that we can elect an individual who can save us—one person in which we vest all powers—is a move away from the idea of parties, which have ideologies and principles.
Strong arguments would be needed to persuade me that we should move away from the idea of an elected authority with a leader. We are told that if we have an elected mayor there will be more public attention, although I could hardly have got much more attention as leader of the GLC. Some people worry that people may not notice the new structure, but if one has the right policies and pursues them, they will command attention, with all the publicity necessary.
There is a problem concerning conflict between an elected authority and a mayor. In America, the system works by back scratching.
§ It being Eleven o'clock, MADAM SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).