HC Deb 06 June 1997 vol 295 cc717-67

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

11.12 am
Mr. Livingstone

Before I was interrupted, I was dealing with the relationship between the mayor and a small elected strategic authority. I am not sure that such an authority would be a sufficient check on any possible abuse of power or corruption by the mayor. In the United States of America, there tends to be a lot of wheeler-dealing between the mayor and the city council, which may comprise only a dozen or 20 members. Trade-offs and deals are done as everyone proceeds cosily in their usual ways of working.

I should much prefer the more vigorous approach which is a tradition of our political system: a party leadership held to account by its own party members every bit as much as by opposition members.

I had the impression when I intervened earlier that there were some not wholly supportive rumblings on my own side, so I wish to refer to the disease of manifestoitis. We are told that something is in the manifesto so it must be banged through. I draw attention to what happened in 1983, when the Tory manifesto included a one-line reference to abolishing the GLC—even though the former Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), had recommended against and the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), was opposed as well.

The only member of the Cabinet at the time who was in favour was Lord Tebbit. But Mrs. Thatcher rammed abolition through, whereupon the House wasted two years of its life abolishing the Greater London Council, to general consternation.

Everyone said, of course, that the move had been in the manifesto, but that is not to say that there was not something wrong with it. It remains our job to scrutinise issues, even if they have been mentioned in the manifesto. I remember a GLC pamphlet that we issued that resulted from a private meeting of Tory Members of Parliament with Willie Whitelaw, who said, discussing the mess that the Government had got into over abolishing the GLC, "How do we get out of this mess without appearing disloyal?"

If we are honest, my party knows that there is no overwhelming support for a separately elected mayor in the London Labour party, among London Labour borough council leaders, or among Labour Members. We know that the Prime Minister is enthusiastic about the idea and that he genuinely believes in it. Massive pressure was brought to bear on Labour borough leaders to go along with the idea and not to rock the boat or appear disloyal. So we all went along with it; we did not make a fuss; it was what the leader wanted. But we must get it right: the leader may be wrong. After real thought and real consultation with Londoners, we may decide not to proceed with it.

Every opinion poll has shown overwhelming support for an elected authority, but opinion polls on whether we should have a mayor have varied. The issue still needs to be argued through. If Londoners ultimately vote for a mayor, that will be the end of the matter—but it is not yet a foregone conclusion. Londoners will want to know how to guard against corruption by such a powerful official. The American example will weigh heavily with many people. Nor do we want a continual state of warfare between a mayor and an elected authority.

I detect here a touch of what I like to call the Millbank tendency. Some of our friends in the Millbank tower have not been in the Labour party machine for quite as long as some of the rest of us and are not as steeped in the culture of the Labour party and its politics. They may even not feel quite as engaged with Labour's trade union traditions as others of us do. They may want a mayor to be above party politics—above the fray. That is why I want the Minister to tell us something about the ideological principles underpinning all this.

If we make the case for a directly elected mayor, why not have a directly elected Prime Minister? He would be above the party fray, able to wheel and deal. I cannot see why the principle should apply to local government but not to national politics. I always feel that some of the more recent members of the Labour party almost wish they had been born in America, with its presidents and mayors, its pomp and its glamour. They are not too happy about being restricted by the ideology, principles and traditions of their own political party and background.

We need to think seriously before breaking with the political traditions and culture of this country and importing a foreign method of government of which we have no understanding or experience.

Not everyone in my party has doubts about a mayor. My good and hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) has been loud in his support of the idea, and is loudly making it clear that he wants to stand for the position.

I followed my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) into a radio studio the other day where she had just been saying that the mayor would occupy the second most powerful position in the land—she may not have been including the monarchy. Hence, she said, the mayor should be remunerated accordingly and paid much more than a Member of Parliament.

When I was on the GLC, we earned £5,000 or £6,000 a year—we did the job because we wished to serve London and make it a better place. I have grave doubts about creating a position with so much attendant pomp, publicity and salary. Londoners will be left confused about where responsibility lies. I urge the Government to get it right. Londoners must not feel pushed into a corner, unable to make the choices that they want. They must not be presented with a fait accompli—a take it or leave it referendum. They are bright enough to make their own choices.

I know that London is not flavour of the month with all the other parts of the United Kingdom, but we can make up our own minds about what sort of government we want. We need a multiple choice referendum: do Londoners want a mayor and an elected authority? Do they simply want an elected authority without a mayor? Do they want it to have revenue-raising powers? Do they want—I offer this in a cross-party spirit—proportional representation? I would see no objection to that. [Interruption.] I thought that that would lose me some of my Campaign group friends. If there is no consensus, the authority will not survive a change of Government 10 or 15 years down the road. It must be voted for by Londoners, and Londoners must agree to make that choice.

The key issue is the revenue, although we will be obsessed by the issue of the mayor. If the Treasury remains in control, the government that we create for London will have no more independence than the Vichy regime in France under the Nazis. I am not equating the Treasury with the Nazis, even if I have some complaints about it. With the Treasury in control, the mayor would have no more authority than Marshal Petain, which is not what we want.

Londoners must have the right to vote for people who will do things that the Treasury does not want and things that upset the Government of the day. When we had a Tory authority, it upset a Labour Government. When we had a Labour authority at county hall, it upset the Tory Government. We all forget, however, that we had Labour authorities that upset the Labour leadership, and Tory authorities that upset the Tory Government of the day.

11.20 am
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), is a civilised man. As I recognise that this is not the last debate that we shall have on the subject, that is a great relief. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was an admirable foil to him, and for the same reason I hope that my right hon. Friend retains his present responsibilities.

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is a most engaging hon. Member and he will know, I think, that it is a genuine expression on my part when I say that it is a privilege to serve as a fellow inner-city Member with him in the House. I thought that I detected in his speech the not too distant rumble of thunder.

I have not recently read Michael Innes's book, "Operation Pax", but my recollection is that it starts with a man going into a shop in London, uttering a familiar phrase and suddenly finding himself catapulted, as James Bond once was in Harlem, into an underground cavern. The sentence that he uttered was Dr. Johnson's phrase: When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life". The man who went into the shop had not realised that that was a significant password.

Apart from evacuation, much of my education, the army and abroad, I have been a Londoner all my life. I had 18 years in business in Mayfair, meeting a payroll for Londoners every month for those 18 years, and since then I have had 18 years as a full-time Member of Parliament. My family have been Londoners since my grandfather came down from Birkenhead in the 1880s. My father was a London Member of Parliament for 23 years. He served on the old Hampstead borough council for 19 years. My noble mother, who is still with us, served on the Hampstead borough council for 17 years, and my father led the Tory party on the old London county council for seven years after the war.

My own contribution to what is called the governance of London is rather more modest. I spent 18 months on the London borough of Camden, but I have frequently thought that 18 months on the London borough of Camden is worth 18 years on a number of other authorities. In 1957, when my father held the responsibilities that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal previously held, he was responsible for setting up the Herbert commission, to which the hon. Member for Brent, East paid compliments.

I went on the London borough of Camden in 1968. That was the year when the Tory party took Hackney and the Labour party in Islington was wiped out. It was the only year in which we took power in Camden.

The grandfather of the Minister without Portfolio, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), succeeded in winning the LCC in 1934. That was interrupted for the only time in 30 years in 1949, when the Tory party effectively won the election for the LCC, although the Labour party, by what I would neutrally describe as a pre-Nolan stratagem, retained power. My mother won a by-election in Kilburn in 1948 and held it at the council elections in 1949. She is the last Tory councillor to sit for Kilburn.

Perhaps even more significant, after the great landslide in 1906, the Liberal party, which had held the LCC since 1898, was swept out of power in 1907.

Although of course I acknowledge the substance of what we are debating today, it brings a smile to the face of some of us that, considering this background of national landslides being succeeded by London landslides in the opposite direction, it is conceivable that one part of the policy and strategy of the present Government is to change the playing field in advance of that other landslide taking place.

Governance is a 17th-century word, appropriate to our present puritan masters. I mentioned in the debate on the Queen's Speech on 16 May, about which the Under-Secretary of State was kind enough to send me a note, that in the 120 hours of canvassing that I did on the doorsteps of the Cities of London and Westminster, not one elector raised with me the need for a strategic authority in London. I do not make too much of that, but that absence was notable when we read about the tremendous enthusiasm. I recognise, of course, that discussion of the matter sells newspapers, and I am not in the least surprised that the campaign has been led by the media.

In light of what the hon. Member for Brent, East said about the Prime Minister's views about the mayor, I fear that we may be going in the same direction as we have sometimes gone in Europe—our leaders tell us what we need, but they are not necessarily supported by the generality in the country. There is a quotation from C. S. Lewis to the effect that, when one hears about somebody going around doing good to others, one can always tell the others by their hunted look. That, too, is in line with the puritan strand in the present Administration.

Of course I acknowledge that there was a differential swing against the Conservative party in London. There may be a number of reasons for it, including the fact that the swing against the Labour party in the late 1970s and 1980s had also been differentially high. Conservative Members who represent London seats must have a decent humility in these matters in the light of the defeat that we suffered, but it is also right for us to be decently wary about what the Labour party is proposing.

Where are we? The House will recall the moment reported by T. S. Eliot when he got into a cab in my constituency and the taxi driver looked over his shoulder and said, "You're Mr. Eliot, aren't you?" T. S. Eliot confirmed that he was. The taxi driver said, "I had that Bertrand Russell in the back of my cab only a fortnight ago, and I said to him over my shoulder, as I am saying to you now, 'What's it all about, then?' and do you know, he couldn't tell me."

My right hon. Friend alluded to the opaqueness of the Government's proposals. When Senator Vandenberg was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he came on his first visit to Europe at the time of the formation of NATO. He arrived at Le Bourget, which is where one arrived if one was flying into Paris from abroad. The entire French press who were gathered at the bottom of the companionway asked him to say a sentence in French. It was a language of which he was imperfectly the master. His mind went entirely blank, but there suddenly came back into it a single sentence from his school days, and he said in impeccable French, which I shall not quote because of the rules of the House, that there had been no great men since Mirabeau. For the next three days the entire French press sought to unravel that statement and discover its significance for contemporary French politics.

The ambiguity of the Government's position, which was not much reduced by the Minister's speech, I had charitably attributed to tensions within the London Labour party, which the hon. Member for Brent, East acknowledged. In what has happened so far, there is a whiff of the remark that used to be made about Denis Compton: that if he called you for a run, it was not an instruction, but the opening of negotiations. One senses that that has been going on in the London Labour party. Moreover, if one does not know where one is trying to get to, any road will get one there.

As this is a day for candour, I acknowledge what the Minister and the hon. Member for Brent, East said about the preparations for the abolition of the GLC in the 1983 Conservative manifesto. I remember it with particular clarity. As I did not know what the Conservative manifesto was going to say, and as I was a London Member and had to write my election address before I knew what it was going to say, I too had to resort to a certain ambiguity about our intentions.

There is universal agreement, even on the Government Front Bench, that we are not seeking a renewal of the GLC. The epitaph that I would choose for the GLC is reflected in the perception that, when the GLC was in existence, if one wanted to move a single parking meter, to add one or remove one, it would take nine months of correspondence between the local authority and the GLC to achieve that objective.

I do not want to give the impression that we are in the state of east Berlin prior to the fall of the wall, but there is a pleasant echo in a 1980s joke about the Stasi when the wall came down. When that event took place, there was no work for former Stasi members, so they all became taxi drivers. Indeed, they became the best taxi drivers in the world: all one had to do was to give one's name and they automatically knew one's address.

After 1986, power was transferred to the boroughs and it was welcomed by them. One of the few leper squints of pre-election Labour thinking on the governance of London appeared in an article in The Times of 14 March, which included the following memorable sentence—de haut en bas, and I apologise for breaking my own rule— Since boroughs appear to be carrying out their tasks adequately at present they will carry on with them. The author of that remark is a member of the present Administration. I do not believe that any hereditary peer or peeress would ever have uttered quite such patronising words as fell from the pen of that life Member of the other place.

What none of Labour's preparatory language has contained is a detailed rebuttal of the legendary article that appeared in The Economist in August 1994, which stated that the way that London is currently being governed is the way in which great cities will be governed in the next century, while acknowledging that transport is a citywide issue.

There are witnesses in the other place, and from parties other than my own. At the macro level, ask Lord Tope, who has considerable London experience, of his views on the Abercrombie plan's effect on London's industrial and employment base. At the micro level, ask Lord Stallard about the destruction of a thriving piano manufacturing industry in Camden Town because of the Greater London council's transport policies.

London is ultimately a series of villages. We have never been subject to a Baron Hausmann regimenting us. We have a strong sense of locality, reminiscent of the Scottish soldier in a military hospital in Mesopotamia in 1916. He was interviewed in his bed by a visiting general, who asked him where he had been wounded. The soldier replied that he been wounded three miles the Ardnamurchan side of Baghdad. That same sense of locality prevails for Londoners as well. In the history of Bart's, my favourite index entry is: English civil war, effect on the parish.

If for Kipling east was east and west was west, for Londoners north is north and south is south. There is an engaging mutual ignorance of the other side of the river. When Arthur Wellard was playing in a pre-war match at the Scarborough festival and hit a ball into the small piazza outside the Scarborough ground called Trafalgar square, it was reported on the six o'clock news. Someone rushed into Mrs. Wellard's home down in Somerset and said, "Did you hear, dear, Arthur has just hit a ball into Trafalgar square?" Whereupon Mrs. Wellard said, "Fancy that, I wonder whether he was playing at Lords or the Oval."

To apply this village sense to one of London's industries, tourism, can be exemplified by the American couple passing through Parliament square, where one or the other asked what the Houses of Parliament were. The other replied, "It is either Oxford or Cambridge, but I'm not sure which."

I choose tourism because it comes into the category of the objectives of the strategic authority in teens of transport, planning and employment. Some "villages" have been profoundly successfully in encouraging leisure industries. To an extent, however—I am thinking particularly of Soho and Covent Garden in my constituency—it has become entirely counter-productive from the point of view of everyone who lives in the area. The best solution is to encourage alternative centres, notably on the south bank, where entrepreneurial activity and cultural ambitions, funded by the lottery, are proving extremely successful in encouraging alternative centres. I have a genuine fear that a strategic authority, instead of accelerating that process, would slow it down. I say that for the purpose of the debate.

The Minister referred to business correspondence, and business has played a notable part in London's flowering over the past five years, in easy partnership with local authorities. It is the appeal of business that it should be consulted in anything that is done. I have not seen much reference—this is relevant to the sentences which the Minister read out—in the current artillery barrage to the schisms in the 1970s, which were the heydays of the Greater London council, between the interests of large business and of small, which are extremely difficult to serve equally in any sort of strategic thinking.

The mayor is a late joker, as the hon. Member for Brent, East implied. I realise, however, that the idea of a mayor has plenty of enthusiastic supporters. I am conscious, of course, of being guilty of the British capacity for thinking of reasons for not doing something. I am, however, a Conservative and I regard our history as informing us for the future. Sam Raeburn, the great Speaker of the House of Representatives, said that the three wisest words in the English language were, "Wait a minute." I share the view of the hon. Member for Brent, East that the history of the mayor needs considerable unravelling.

Roy Porter's distinguished social history is to the effect that we are a city in decline and that we need a strategic authority to cure it. I take a less pessimistic view. My second son, who was 30 this week, works in the media in the northern part of my constituency. He says that he cannot walk down a street in the heart of London without seeing change since he walked down it last because of the entrepreneurial activity that is taking place.

When Roy Porter gave his Carlton lecture on London, I asked him for his views on the impact of new technology in London in the next century. He said that he was not qualified to answer the question. For myself, I think that London can face the millennium with confidence and, unexpectedly for the Labour party perhaps, would add the effect of the energy of a new wave of refugees to that of new technology, which I believe will have a powerful beneficial effect on London. I do not know what new Labour will do for London, for the jury on it is still out.

I end on a constituency note. I took a decision in the middle of the previous Parliament to fight the general election when many of my colleagues, younger than myself, were deciding not to stand. A profound influence on me in making that decision was the possibility that there might be a Labour Government, and apprehension that they might wish to interfere with the arrangements for the City of London.

Those apprehensions have now dissipated but I hope that the new Government's plans will adequately harness the capacity and contribution for good of the City Corporation and the Lord Mayor. That capacity for good goes back over many centuries. The City civic and the City financial are a vivid instance of a successful partnership between business and government, to the good of London as a whole and to the good of the nation at large. I hope that that contribution can be maintained in whatever arrangements for the governance of London the Government see fit to put in front of us.

11.37 am
Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham)

It seems that we have heard the resignation speech of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke). The Labour party is raring to go to meet the challenge of the by-election.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his appointment as, among other things, the Minister for London. He made an outstanding speech that combined vision and intellectual rigour. The Government have a crystal-clear commitment to return democracy to London and have made an immediate start on that process. That is warmly welcomed by the vast majority of Londoners who, I have no doubt, will give overwhelming backing to the proposals that will lie behind the referendum next year.

The speech of my hon. Friend the Minister stood in marked contrast to the feeble response from the Opposition Front Bench, which was characterised by windy rhetoric and petty point-scoring, which I suspect will be the style of the Conservative Opposition for a long time to come.

The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) even made a half-hearted attempt to revive the issue of the so-called London tax. There will be no extra taxation, local or national, as a result of the new strategic authority for London. The new authority will take over existing agencies—the police, London Transport, the Government office for London and, perhaps, the emergency services—all of which are already funded and for which no extra spending will be required.

On the contrary, as the all-party Association of London Government has convincingly demonstrated in its report "Reaping the Rewards of Democracy", ending the duplication of back-up services and streamlining the new strategic authority offers the prospect of real savings for the taxpayer, not extra costs.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The hon. Gentleman must be somewhat confused if he presumes that the new authority will take over the strategic role for the police and the fire and civil defence authority, because both are currently precepting authorities. Therefore, by definition, without any other change, the new authority must be able to raise taxes on Londoners.

Mr. Hill

There is no intrinsic necessity for extra taxation, local or national, under the proposed arrangements.

It is a mark of their desperation that the Tories are still running with the idea of a so-called London tax. They tried that on before the general election and they got their answer then—a Tory rump of 11 Members out of the capital's 74 parliamentary seats and the return of 57 Labour Members, the biggest swing to Labour in the country.

The Tories will persist with windy rhetoric and point scoring because they have no positive alternative to suggest. The Conservative party can argue neither from principle nor practical experience to justify its opposition to the restoration of democratic government in London.

The truth is that it is a scandal that London should be the only capital city in the advanced industrial world without its own elected authority. It is the only major city in the advanced industrial world without a form of democratic government. Indeed, it is the only city in Britain without a democratic authority. That is an affront to the democratic rights of Londoners and their reasonable expectation of participating in the decisions that affect their lives.

Let us remember that the case for an elected authority does not rest solely on democratic rights, but on the need for efficiency. People want democratic government because they know that democracy delivers better than non-democratic systems of government.

It is the condition of London that offers the biggest condemnation of the Tories' abolition of democracy from our city. I am delighted, of course, that London has apparently regained its status as the world's most swinging city. I am delighted that millions of tourists want to come here each year to enjoy the attractions of the centre of London. Our success in tourism is vital to the London economy.

However, London does not feel quite as good to the vast majority of Londoners living outside the golden city centre. For most Londoners, their experiences of the city are of rising crime, congestion, pollution, a crumbling public transport system, poor housing and high levels of unemployment. Survey after survey reveals that most Londoners do not like living here and would prefer to live elsewhere.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

To return to the question of taxation, I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has read the Labour party policy document, "A Voice For London". It refers to an authority with limited spending and tax-raising powers. Is there not some sort of conflict between his ideas and those put forward in the document written by his colleagues on the Front Bench?

Mr. Hill

No, not at all. The new authority will assume the role of agencies that already have precisely those powers. There is nothing implicit in the proposals that would entail any increase in expenditure or taxation. The hon. Gentleman should be more relaxed about the matter, because Londoners have certainly not fallen for that scaremongering tactic.

London needs to be better administered so that it is more responsive to the wishes of Londoners. The interests of London need to be better represented to the Government and to the world. It is precisely because we recognised that that we justified our case for a democratic government for London in a document entitled "Voice For London". Frankly, it is ludicrous that, in the previous Government, the so-called Minister for London was the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and that the London police authority was represented by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Is it any wonder that the new funding formula for the Metropolitan police has meant that we now have 1,000 fewer police officers in London than in 1992? Moreover, we are just a third of the way through implementing the cuts imposed by that formula.

Who was there to stand up for London when our hospitals were closed in favour of new hospitals in the shire counties? Who was there when funding for local government was shifted out of London to those counties? Who was there to stop the draconian cuts that have been imposed this year and will be imposed next year and the year after on funding to London Underground? That was the largest proportionate cut imposed on a single major Government spending programme in the past 10 years.

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman makes allusions to the past 18 years, but he must be aware that the decision to move national health service resources out of London to other parts of the country was taken by the previous Labour Government between 1974 and 1979.

Mr. Hill

That decision was implemented with retrospective resistance by the Labour party during the previous Parliament.

Who was there to highlight the fact that, although London generates one fifth of the Government's revenues, we receive back just one seventh in Government spending? That is why we need a strategic London authority to fight the big battles for London.

We also need such an authority simply to ensure that the city is better administered in terms of Londonwide issues that go beyond the reach of the boroughs. I shall cite a couple of examples of such issues from my experience of transport policy.

I find it incredible that we still have upwards of 50,000 unlicensed minicabs operating in London. Those drivers are subject to no form of scrutiny to guarantee the safety of the public in London. I find it incredible that the previous Government failed to implement the London primary route signing project, which would cost £30 million and would be recouped in one year. Those are the simple straightforward measures that I would expect a Londonwide authority to take up, because they would give us a better city. There are dozens of other examples of how better government could be achieved.

I welcome the Labour party's commitment to democratic government for London, and particularly the proposal for an elected mayor. That person would be a popular focus for civic pride among Londoners and would certainly become a major national figure. We need such a major player to play a leading role in promoting London, especially in terms of economic development and inward investment, which we so desperately need. More than half of the 25 parliamentary constituencies with the highest levels of unemployment are in London. It has more unemployed people by far than any other region in the country.

The mayor must be elected. Given that person's key role as the leader of London, voters have the elementary right to choose who will lead them. That has not always been so when electing London's leaders. An elected mayor confers that right on the voters.

Mr. Livingstone

Can my hon. Friend say why he feels there is a vital right for Londoners to elect a mayor directly when we do not have a directly elected Prime Minister? It seems to me that there is no point of principle between those posts.

Mr. Hill

There are lots of examples from European countries and countries in the British Commonwealth of locally elected mayors who fulfil a promotional role locally and who still operate within an overall parliamentary system. There is no necessary connection. Surely it is horses for courses. We must consider what will succeed best, and on the evidence available I believe that there is a powerful case to argue that London needs the focus provided by such a mayor. That person would have the power to go to the Government and to the outside world and make the case for London.

I welcome the Minister's evident commitment to a small strategic London authority—the smaller the better. After all, it will be a strategic authority, whose role will be to co-ordinate, plan, encourage and promote. It will not be in the business of implementing programmes in detail. The last thing we need is conflict with the boroughs as a result of overlapping responsibilities.

There will obviously be ample opportunities to consult in due course on the precise structures of the authority. I hope that the means will be found for the formal involvement of London's business community in that new authority. In the past decade, as a result of the vacuum created by the abolition of the GLC, various business groupings have sprung up or become revitalised as the promoters of London's economy. I am thinking of the London Chamber of Commerce, and especially the London First business organisation, which has done excellent work on behalf of London, not least through its London Pride partnership with the Association of London Government.

It would be foolish to waste such resources. My own feeling is that a strategic London authority should move to an explicit partnership with such bodies, and that could be best achieved by giving it a statutory duty to develop its policies in consultation with the business community.

I welcome the Minister's intimation that a mayor could be elected on a reformed system of election. It would be the mayor's role to represent all, or at least the majority, of Londoners. It would be quite unacceptable if, for example, in a four-way contest on a first past the post basis, we ended up with a mayor who was elected by no more than a quarter of London's voters. Such a result would confer no mandate or legitimacy on the winner. Where it is a matter of electing one person, the alternative vote system is obviously the way to secure majority support.

There are powerful arguments for the adoption of proportional representation for the election of members of the strategic London authority. If we accept the arguments about proportionality for devolution in Scotland and Wales, why not for London? We have said that, in future, we will adopt PR for a reformed House of Lords, so why not for a strategic London authority? Sooner than that, in all probability we will have to introduce PR for European elections, so why not for a Londonwide authority?

As a party and as a Government, we evidently have no principled objection to PR. For excellent reasons, we have stipulated that the strategic London authority should be a lean and mean—[Interruption.]—authority with a relatively small number of members. Perhaps not mean, but certainly lean. Let us not even tempt the Opposition into accusations of largesse on the part of this putative authority. At the same time, like any democratic body, the authority should be as representative as possible of the opinions of Londoners—that vast population of more than 6 million—on whose behalf it will act.

The smaller the number of constituencies and the larger their size, the more similar their electoral characteristics are likely to be, and on a first past the post system, the more likely they are to produce the same winner. That could lead to the exclusion not only of so-called minor or third parties but major parties also. It is an arrangement that will almost certainly distort the effects of swing. In other words, we risk a cycle of substantially or exclusively one-party rule in the new authority, and that would undermine both its representational function and the principle of partnership on which it should operate. There are powerful reasons for all political parties to avoid such a scenario.

Although I give enthusiastic support to the Government's proposals for a strategic London authority, I hope that the Government will accept the case for PR as its method of election, on the grounds of both principle and practicality.

11.52 am
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

We on the Liberal Democrat Benches very much welcome a debate on the governance of London so early in this Parliament. It is the first time—certainly in the five Parliaments that I remember—that we have come so early to this important debate. I welcome the Minister to his new and very important responsibilities, and wish him well in them.

I am encouraged—this is very important—that the Minister intends to adopt a consultative style. There is much wisdom, not just in this place but beyond, and it would be foolish to make decisions that do not distil and draw on the wisdom of people from all backgrounds and walks of life in this great city and beyond to give us the best possible model for the future.

The Minister and his colleagues should listen to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). It will not surprise the Minister to hear that I and my colleagues share the hon. Gentleman's views on many of the points that he made—again from much experience.

I always put the right hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) at the top of my list of the most erudite and best contributors in the House. I commend him warmly to new Members. If they want a good speech, provided he is on good form—like England were yesterday and he was today—they should come to hear him.

He made a most important point: that, above all, London is a collection of villages. Whatever else we do, we must not forget that it is the communities where individuals live that need most to be supported and strengthened, and nothing that we do strategically or in a macro-economic or macro-political sense must undermine them. There has been far too much breaking down of the communities in London. I could elaborate on that substantially, but it is best left for another debate.

I welcome much of what the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) said, but I challenge him on at least one point. A quick collection of opinion suggests that the hon. Member for Brent, East is right. No European country that does not have a presidential system has elected mayors.

Mr. Hill

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hughes

We can debate it. Italy has a presidential system. The head of state is a President. The point is valid. The logic of having presidential-type elections for cities and not for the executive head of state needs to be worked through if it is to be argued as having separate validity. The hon. Member for Streatham is also on weak ground on the inability to raise money, for the reason that I mentioned earlier about precepts being transferred across.

The general election showed the House—at last, thank God—that London is a three-party city. It has been for a long time; it is just that this place has been a little slow in reflecting it. For some of the past 14 years, I have indeed been a bit lonely, but one of the great joys of this Parliament is that, on the issue of London government, the two parties that advocated it strongly went up in number considerably, and the one party that denied that view went down considerably.

London has rarely, if ever—not in this century—had so few Tory Members of Parliament. It has never before had as many London Labour Members of Parliament. It has certainly never had as many Liberal or Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament. The fact that Labour increased its strength and that we in the Liberal Democrats doubled our number from our highest previous number deserves to be recorded. It is not just quantity. I can assure the House, from personal experience, that there is no more highly qualified group of Members of Parliament than my new colleagues sitting around me, who come with great experience—I say that in all seriousness—and will contribute greatly to the deliberations of the House. They are hugely valued and welcome.

Mr. Alan Clark

Without in any way disputing the validity of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, let me point out that, in fact, the doubling of strength to which he refers arose purely out of exploiting the first-past-the-post system. I do not mean that as a criticism. Had the election been based on proportional representation—we heard that floated earlier—the number would have diminished, not increased.

Mr. Hughes

As it happens, the right hon. Gentleman may be partly right about the first point, but he is absolutely wrong about the second because, if we had a proportional system of election in London, the Labour party would have nearly half the seats—I remind Labour Members that it did not get 50 per cent. of the vote even in London—the Tory party would have a third of the seats, we would have a sixth of the seats and a sixth of 74 is considerably more than six. We would be better represented and I look forward to his support for PR, which will come—

Mr. Ottaway

The Liberal Democrat vote went down.

Mr. Hughes

Yes, our votes went down nationally by a very small amount but, under PR, the number of Members of Parliament would be proportional to the number of votes. Fifteen per cent. of London Members of Parliament would be Liberal Democrats, as Londoners voted for.

Let us move on to the range of areas for this debate. First, there is no right answer to this question. The governance of London does not have one single right answer and we would be arrogant to think that we knew one. Whatever we do as a result of this process of consultation and then legislation, it will be a best attempt, but it will not be perfect, so let us always seek to improve without being arrogant enough to think that we have a perfect solution.

Secondly, there are no immutable facts. The boundaries of London are arbitrary, just as borough, parish and national boundaries are arbitrary. None of them is writ for all time. Therefore, let us not assume that debate about boundaries is not valid. As it happens, for this debate, I think that it is better to start with the present Greater London boundaries, but I have no theological view that areas currently in London that want to be outside it should not leave, or that areas currently outside that want to join should not join. We need to realise that those things can change and that there should be a mechanism for that sort of change.

Thirdly, we must be clear what we are talking about here. In relation to the main issue in the debate, we are talking about regional government, not traditional local government. However, there is a need for a big debate about traditional local government. The governance of London is not only about having a strategic authority, but about how this place looks after London affairs and what else happens elsewhere.

Until there is a strategic elected authority for London, there should be a special London Grand Committee. All the London Members of Parliament—74 of them—should sit on it and deal with London business, as the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish do on their Committees. London's population is bigger than that in those other three parts of the United Kingdom. Huge issues otherwise impact on the business of the rest of our colleagues, who are not terribly interested in London, and take up time in the House. I seriously suggest that, rather than an all-party London group, it would be perfectly practical to have a London Select Committee or Grand Committee for the next two or three years, which would of course disappear when the strategic body for London is, as I hope that it soon will be, in place.

Below strategic level, I hope that, before this Parliament is over, we shall have started and completed the revision of the ward boundaries throughout London, which has been much delayed. I hope that we shall have set up the parish and community councils, which the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) suggested we would argue for—as we certainly shall. London is the only part of the UK where, by law, we cannot have parish or community government. That is nonsense. The people of London clearly want such government.

There is a later debate about whether the size of the boroughs is right. Personally, I am against big boroughs; I am much happier with smaller boroughs, as they used to be. Once we have a strategic authority, we might consider whether smaller would be better.

There is a strong argument for having annual elections for London councils, as there are elsewhere. When we have a strategic authority, we should do what we do in the rest of the country, where one year in four there are no local elections and we elect the rest of the local councils by thirds. Issues should perhaps go to referendum more often in London government. There is a whole agenda. I want to flag up just that it is not only about a strategic authority, although that is the core debate today.

Let us come to other questions; they could be debated at length, but I will not do that. The Liberal Democrats have long been persuaded that strategic regional issues need strategic regional government. We shall debate later what they should be, but in general terms it is fairly obvious what many of them should be. They obviously include economic regeneration, the selling of London, the economy of London and the transport system.

I had an interesting week in Hong Kong—I had never been before—during last week's recess. Hong Kong public transport works wonderfully, and that is one of the reasons why Hong Kong has been so successful. London could be hugely more successful with an effective, functioning and integrated public transport system. That is clearly a Londonwide issue.

Sports policy and the promotion of sports, the arts and culture are clearly Londonwide issues; those subjects, like so many things, fall naturally under strategic responsibilities. I think that the Government are starting at about the right place, as we have, by listing what they should be. Environmental policy clearly is also better dealt with strategically than borough by borough. Let us not argue, therefore, that many things could not be dealt with strategically. Of course, there is no perfection about it, but there are obvious starting points.

That means that we must end some of the ridiculous and bizarre anomalies. Let me take just one. The government of policing in London is like "The Mikado", where the Home Secretary speaks to himself when he speaks to the police authority for London and when the police authority speaks to the Home Secretary. That is bizarre. Not even a constitutional fiction can pretend that he can separate himself in those two functions. Clearly, the government of policing in London, plus the fire and civil defence authorities and so on, should be included. The London police, including the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, want that, and so do the general public.

In answer to the question, "Should there be Londonwide government?" we say strongly and without qualification, "Yes, there should." On the second question, "What should be its powers?", we have a general idea, but we do not pretend that it is perfect. We want to debate the matter, and we welcome the Green and White Paper process.

The third question is, "Should there be a directly elected mayor?" The Minister knows my view, and that of my party, in advance. We are not persuaded. Many of the reasons against the idea that were advanced by the hon. Member for Brent, East are strong and good. Some of my hon. Friends favour the prospect more than others, but we have debated it internally, and, on balance, collectively, we are not persuaded.

It is true that the post might produce a highly paid non-political, or apolitical, individual, very susceptible to influence. Some of the arguments citing parallels elsewhere are not valid. For example, I remind hon. Members that the mayor of Paris is not directly elected. He is no more than the leader of the majority group in the arrondissement that represents the centre of the Greater Paris area.

Therefore, we can have a strong figurehead who arrives by that route, as leaders of the Greater London council have done in the past. The history of London provides us with powerful arguments showing that, when the city has had a strategic authority, it has not needed a strong separately elected person. The Horace Cutlers, the Herbert Morrisons and the Ken Livingstones were strong enough, and it was clear enough that they spoke for London, without their needing to be separately elected.

With such leaders, there are also strong arguments involving accountability to their party and to the electorate as a whole. Moreover, in many places where mayors are directly elected, the turnout is appallingly low—sometimes as low as 25 per cent. We sometimes think that we already have bad turnouts in some parts of our capital city, so that risk must be borne in mind.

Local authority chief executives are clearly unhappy. Of course, I understand why local authority leaders would be unhappy, because they might be overshadowed by the more glamorous prestigious post above them. There are also questions about the division of responsibilities.

Without wanting to engage in a full debate on the subject now, I point out to the Minister that, even if he wants to follow his manifesto closely, I do not believe that it necessarily traps him into having a referendum with only one question. I shall finish my speech by suggesting what the questions should be.

In summary, we are not persuaded by the argument that there should be a mayor. We are against the idea, and we ask the Government to reconsider. I know that that argument was their starting point for the debate, but clearly it divides both the Labour party and Londoners, and is not yet an idea whose time has come.

Incidentally, if we decide that London should have a directly elected mayor, should there not equally logically be a directly elected mayor for every city and town in the United Kingdom? If not, why not? In fairness to other cities, we need to have that debate before we localise the issue in London.

Should there be power to lower and raise taxes? The hon. Member for Streatham and I may or may not disagree. My answer is clearly yes. A Londonwide authority that could only ever spend what the Government gave it would be a paper tiger. Many good people would not stand for election if they thought that they would have no power to decide what Londoners should pay. Londoners did not object when the GLC had the power to raise money. Indeed, they often voted Labour because they knew that the Labour party would raise more money to spend on London's services—for example, to change the regime for London transport.

The logic of representation is the ability to raise taxation. It would be nonsense if borough councils could not do so, and equally it would be nonsense if a Londonwide body could not do so. Of course, the new body should take over all the funds of the Government office for London and the myriad quangos and other organisations. The host of other bodies makes quite a saga. There are 12 different authorities for transport alone—one for the traffic lights, one for the planning of white lines, and so on. It is nonsense—comedy, even.

I hope that the Government will trust the people of London enough to allow them to decide whether there should be tax-raising powers, and if so, to allow those elected to make the decisions. It would be nonsense if they did not have that power.

Should there be a referendum? Yes. There should be a referendum for Londoners, including all those electors who are resident in the capital city, before the legislation comes into force. Should there be one or more question? There should be more than one. There should be one question about whether we want a strategic authority, one about a directly elected mayor and one about tax-raising and lowering powers. Of course the authority must be able to put taxes down if it can put them up.

The final question—although perhaps I might prefer it if we did not have to ask such a question—would be: should the body be elected by a proportional system? The Government may be committed to a referendum during this Parliament on a proportional system for national elections, but we need it for London, too. I hope that they will take our advice that we need a proportional system.

My final point concerns the proposed timetable, with which—the Minister will gather—I have a problem. I am not suggesting that he has reached a final view, and I accept that we need a debate on the matter. The Prime Minister got into trouble on Wednesday on a similar issue, and I do not want the Minister to get into the same trouble. We shall have a Green Paper—I welcome that. My colleagues and I will be constructive during discussions before, during and after the Green Paper. We shall then have a debate in light of the public's response to that.

Our view is that the White Paper with the Bill attached—as suggested by Conservative Members—should then be the basis for the vote. I share the Minister's view that voting should take place next May at the same time as the local elections. That is logical, as it will save money and will encourage more people to vote. I assure him that, if we reach agreement on the timetable, my party will co-operate to make sure that the Bill progresses quickly through the House next year. There need be no fear that the Bill will not be on the statute book in time to have a referendum in May simply because the Bill is not passed as early as the Minister envisages.

We welcome this debate and we look forward with excitement to Londonwide government by the millennium. We shall collaborate constructively, although we shall criticise where the Government are wrong, from this day on.

12.10 pm
Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

I have been made aware of the conventions of maiden speeches, especially the tradition of paying tribute to one's predecessors. I have no problem with praising many of the previous Members of Parliament for Hayes and Harlington: men such as Walter Ayles, a good socialist who took a special interest in aid to Africa; Arthur Skeffington, a superb housing Minister in the Wilson Government; and Neville Sandelson, a good man who unfortunately fell victim to the delusions of grandeur of David Owen.

Despite my respect for the conventions of the House, I shall not perjure myself by praising my immediate Tory predecessor. Many saw him simply as a Tory buffoon, and he was once described as a "pig's bladder on a stick". When he chose as his election slogan, "We love Dicks", we were not sure whether to laugh or to call in the obscene publications squad. However, Terry Dicks was not a joke. He was a stain on the character of this House, the Conservative party which harboured him and the good name of my constituency. He brought shame on the political process of this country by his blatant espousal of racism and his various corrupt dealings. He demeaned the House by his presence, and I deeply regret that the Conservative party failed to take action to stem his flow of vile bigotry. Thankfully, my constituents can now say good riddance to this malignant creature.

My speech in this debate, and many others today, have been more than 10 years in the waiting. In the newspapers this week, we have seen pictures of 50,000 people demonstrating for democracy by holding candles in a park in Hong Kong. More than a decade ago in our capital city, more than 250,000 Londoners stood silently in Jubilee gardens on the last night of the GLC when the lights were turned out in County hall. As the GLC councillor for Hayes and Harlington council and deputy leader of the authority, I was among them, and we tearfully sang "We'll Meet Again". After all this time, we are about to meet again.

The abolition of the GLC was self-evidently an act of malignant spite by a Prime Minister in the first demented throes of megalomania. Harold Laski, a good socialist and once the chair of the Labour party, prophetically explained that Britain would not experience fascism in the form of a strutting Mussolini or Hitler, but instead was vulnerable to a form of Conservative authoritarianism arrived at by the slow incremental erosion of our civil liberties and democratic institutions. Under the Thatcher regime, the institution of democratic local government was bombarded by the introduction of rate capping, the surcharging of the Lambeth councillors and the abolition of the GLC, culminating in the establishment of the government of our capital city by an appointed state: the appointment of Tories, by Tories, to line the pockets of Tories.

What has that plethora of quangos and joint committees achieved for our city? In the custodial care of the Tory appointees, 40,000 families in London are homeless every year; up to 3,000 people sleep on our streets in winter; crime has doubled, with a terrifying and unrelenting increase in violence; our manufacturing and economic base has collapsed; our health service is in crisis; and our transport system is gridlocked, with the effect that traffic is slower than at the turn of the century. Many of us will never forget or forgive the Tories for the scale of their neglect of our city.

For most of the past decade, I served as the chief executive of the Association of London Authorities, and latterly the Association of London Government. After 10 long years of designing blueprints for a new strategic authority in that capacity, I am naturally pleased that, at last, we have the opportunity to start the reconstruction process. I also warmly welcome the fact that, in the spirit of open government and inclusiveness, there is to be a thorough consultation process, including a Green Paper, a White Paper and a referendum before the final legislation.

It is critical in the consultation process that views are honestly expressed and listened to if we are to avoid putting in place a structure that we shall live to regret. In that spirit, I want to set out some initial views on the basic architecture of the proposed new government for the capital.

There was a consultation process in the Labour party on the structural options for the new authority, but it is no secret that the proposal for a directly elected mayor was the result of enthusiasm from above.

I have tried to analyse why, deep within me, I have such reservations about the proposal; it is certainly not because of an emotive claim that the system is somehow alien to this country. It is partly because it grates against my notion of democratic socialist practice, which involves the development of a policy programme by the party for presentation to the electorate, and in which the electors vote primarily for a set of ideas and policies associated with an ideology and advocated by a party rather than voting for their impressions of an individual. That is a vote for the many, not the few—and certainly not for one.

I also have practical concerns about accountability and the potential for the abuse of power and corruption in a mayoral system. Nevertheless, the proposal for a directly elected mayor was contained in the manifesto on which our party was elected, so I look to the detail of the design of the relationship between the mayor and the elected authority to ensure political accountability and to secure probity.

The checks and balances that are essential to ensure accountability would at a minimum include, for example, the election of the mayor's cabinet by, and from among, the authority members; the approval by the authority of the overall budget and major spending decisions; a system of scrutiny of policy making; the ratification by the authority of any senior staffing appointments; and the right of the authority to express no confidence in the mayor and to trigger an election—in effect, a right of recall.

The strategic role and powers of the new authority are almost self-evident in terms of the immediate and concrete needs of Londoners: economic regeneration; an efficient integrated transport system; a decent environment; and a feeling of safety from crime and hazards.

My plea is simply that the legislation that we pass be sufficiently flexible to enable the new authority to meet new challenges as they arise. That may require a more general power of intervention, if necessary triggered by a decision by the electorate, the Secretary of State or the House.

On funding, I agree that the allocation of powers and responsibilities without resources is pointless. The inheritance of existing precepts and the transfer of grant from central Government without capping, combined with the ability to borrow, would go a long way towards resourcing the new authority and achieving some economies of scale that would release new money. I also plead for flexibility in the legislation, to enable the new authority to explore new funding streams, possibly by hypothecated levies again triggered by the Government, by the House or by referendums.

Some discussions have already taken place on the location of the new authority. Naturally, I prefer the retrieval of county hall, if necessary by compulsory purchase. I would certainly welcome an inquiry into the sale of county hall under the previous regime.

As an alternative, the Middlesex guildhall across Parliament square would be suitable. We have been informed that the Prime Minister has assured the Corporation of the City of London of its continued existence. Thus, the City's guildhall is not available for use.

Labour remains committed to reforming the City's archaic and undemocratic procedures. I hope that the City corporation will produce its own options for reform. By way of an incentive to expedite matters, I give notice that, unless reform proposals are forthcoming at the appropriate stage of the Bill enacting the new authority, I am minded to seek to insert a clause to abolish the City corporation—a generally uncontentious measure, I suggest.

On the representative nature of the authority, whatever its size and method of election, I would argue that it should reflect the gender balance and ethnic diversity of our community. We should ensure the full involvement of all the social partners, of both sides of industry in the capital, in its deliberations and decision making.

As a child, my first political awareness came when Wilson was in Government, John F. Kennedy was President of the United States and Martin Luther King had a dream—a dream of a new society, of equality and decency for our children. I believe that the last Greater London council administration was part of that dream; it was about building a new beginning for our city. The new authority that we are putting in place will be part of the procedure that will allow us to dream that dream again; a dream of a decent civil society in which equality reigns. I am pleased that I am going to be part of the process of making that dream a reality.

12.20 pm
Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

I am delighted to accord with the conventions of the House by paying tribute to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell). I found many parts of it interesting and constructive, but some, as he predicted, contentious. I note that he did not accord with convention by paying a generous tribute to his immediate predecessor. I remind him that Mr. Dicks won three successive general elections. To criticise Mr. Dicks in the language and manner that he did must to some degree impugn the judgment of his electorate, which happily returned Mr. Dicks three times.

I wonder whether the electorate's decision had anything to do with the record of Mr. Dicks's predecessor, Neville Sandelson, who received a good deal of intemperate and critical correspondence in his closing years of representing the Labour party here. One letter addressed to "Neville Sandelson MP, House of Commons" said something along the lines of, "We never see you. As far as we are concerned, you do not exist. Are you too posh to come to your constituency?" He simply sealed it up and wrote on the envelope, "Not known at this address," and put it back in the post. There is a limit to the number of times that one can do that to one's constituents.

I am one of only two Conservative Members who represent inner-city constituencies. I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Sir Nicholas Scott, whose courage, humanity and dedication to his work, both as a constituency Member and a Minister, made him widely liked in the House. That was not least because he was part of the diminishing band of hon. Members who seemed untainted by the rigours of doctrine or prejudice. He was widely liked both here and in his constituency.

Proportional representation has been mentioned. I remind the House that I am also one of only two Conservative Members in the whole country to have been elected by 55 per cent. of their electorate. I mention that because there is a feeling abroad that inner cities have an in-built anti-Conservative prejudice, and that it is not possible for Conservative Members to represent them.

My constituency contains delightful architecture, thriving small businesses, trees, squares, and leafy avenues: enough greenery to satisfy even my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who always tried to apply the garden city solution to the problems of inner-city deprivation. Closely connected with that is a splendid, robust, diligent local authority. The majority party in the local authority in my constituency has not lost a seat at a local council election since 1978.

Many Conservative Members have been steadily undermined by intrusions into the local authority system. That has never happened in Kensington and Chelsea, and if one visits the royal borough, one understands why. One can see everywhere the results of the local authority's labours and endeavours to make it the most congenial location in Greater London.

This is, in a sense, a maiden speech, so I do not want to be contentious, unlike the previous speaker. However, I should make some reference to the Labour party's failure to make any intrusion in the local authority balance in the division, and to the bizarre campaign that was run by my Labour opponent in the general election. It is a cautionary tale for all hon. Members.

My opponent was a Labour councillor, who separated himself from his preoccupations with his council duties to run a campaign that seemed to centre on the recruitment of various participants in my private life. They were issued with Labour party badges, and were paraded around the constituency to tell my electors how wicked I was. The only criterion that one can apply to that technique is to record the fact that the anti-Conservative swing in Kensington and Chelsea was very much less than it was in the rest of Greater London.

I should like to raise two points. The first relates to the issue of a referendum. It is odd that the Government are so keen on referendums, when they have only just arrived in the House in colossal strength. What curious sense of insecurity pervades Labour Members that on practically every subject their confidence fails them? They could say, "This is what will happen. We have the people's endorsement": "people" is their favourite word—I notice that they introduce it into practically every text, which is clearly an instruction from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), but none the worse for that.

Why must the Government have all these referendums? Given their colossal majority and immense strength, what is the point of wasting time and money "consulting the people" by referendums?

The Minister said that the referendum will produce an endorsement of the principle. Why do the Government need an endorsement? They have just won the general election, so why bother to go round again and try to get an endorsement? The only point of a referendum would be to analyse and dissect the regional or borough conclusions. If they seek the decision and the judgment of the people, they may get a fragmentation of the result. In some districts and boroughs, the people—to use the corporate term so popular with Labour Members—do not want a strategic authority or a mayor.

Another question that was posed must be answered quickly. What is the division of power to be between the mayor and the strategic authority? Who is in charge? They will not agree all the time and will probably start disagreeing immediately. Who will have the last word?

Another question involves the title of mayor. I caution the Labour party against adopting that title in this context. There is already a Lord Mayor in London and it is an ancient and historic title. The Lord Mayor of London is an international symbol of London, certainly the City of London. The Lord Mayor travels abroad and, wherever he goes, he is received almost as a sort of miniature head of state. All the ceremony that he offers to his visitors is extended to him. He already plays an enormously important role in spreading prestige and recruiting business—all things that, we are told, another mayor would do for the city. The Lord Mayor plays a conspicuous and important role.

If two people both carry the title mayor—one Lord Mayor, the other mayor—how will they relate? Will that not create muddle, not least among the media, whose ability to master such distinctions after 3 pm is often diminished? I foresee a lot of potential confusion. Could we not, at this early stage, before the term mayor is set in concrete, think of alternative titles? How about governor? Does not that appeal to anyone? As many Labour Members are europhiles, how about the title prefect? Consideration must be paid to the various factors.

We need far more detail of what is proposed. The important question that has been posed and to which no answer has been given involves the fact that we must have the White Paper and the Bill before the referendum. If we do not, not only will the referendum be a waste of time and money, because the Labour party already has such a colossal majority in Parliament, but it will contain a fraudulent element. If the Labour Government must have a referendum, they should hold it only after the detail that it contains has been put before the House for discussion and debate.

12.32 pm
Mrs. Eileen Gordon (Rom ford)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker for calling me to make my maiden speech. I had to get here so early this morning that, after yesterday's late night sitting, I had to check that I did not have my fluffy slippers and dressing gown on when I walked into the Chamber. Since being elected, I have been on a steep learning curve, and last night it seemed to be downhill all the way.

I am honoured to be in this place representing the people of Romford in the London borough of Havering. The stereotype of Essex man and woman—of bimbo and himbo—with white stilettos and white socks has become a joke. Romford is like anywhere else: a mixture of people, all trying to do the best for themselves and their families.

I have spent most of my life in Romford, so the House must excuse me if my speech is a little parochial. Romford is an old market town; in fact, this year the market celebrates its 750th anniversary. One of the largest open air markets in the country and its traders play an integral part in the town's life and economy. The town is at the crossroads of London and Essex: from the 18th-century coaches that used to pass through, to the commuter trains of today, there has always been a bustle and movement of people through the town.

Mention of coaches and coaching inns reminds me of our famous Romford brewery which, until 1992, filled Romford with the delicious smell of brewing. The manufacturing side of that industry closed that year and many skilled workers lost their jobs. I and many others still miss that distinctive smell wafting over the town, and those people certainly miss their jobs. The distribution side of the industry stayed, but that, too, is now threatened by a proposed merger, which my constituents who work in the brewery tell me they do not want. I hope that the merger—which is now before the Monopolies and Mergers Commission—will be closely examined by the Government, because my town cannot afford to lose hundreds of highly skilled jobs and suffer the knock-on effects on the town's economy.

As I said, Romford is at the crossroads and, after the second world war, many families moved there from the war-torn east end of London. My family were given a house in Harold Hill, which, at that time, was in the Romford constituency. The three-bedroom house built by the London county council, which later became the Greater London council, was like utopia to my family, and the move and everything that followed transformed their lives and those of their children, including me.

Today, people still choose to move out of London, and many of them commute to the city each day. They are concerned about job security, housing, transport and health—issues that we covered in our general election pledges, which they endorsed.

I pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Michael Neubert, who, although never an Essex man, represented Romford for more than 20 years and earned my respect for his opposition to the closure of services at Oldchurch hospital. Just as the market is at the heart of our community, Oldchurch hospital is an integral part of our lives. The Conservative Government's decision to close the accident and emergency department was a bad mistake—I do not want to be too controversial, but it was one of many.

I am pleased that Oldchurch hospital will be included in the review of London health services being carried out by the Labour Government and I am sure that, this time, the views of local people and their representatives will be listened to. Issues such as the future of our hospital services have to be examined Londonwide, because each hospital affects others in the area and elsewhere across London. That is why I welcome today's debate on the governance of London.

The first thing I put on my desk at the House of Commons was a photograph of my children at a protest against the abolition of the GLC. Although we admit that the GLC's structure had faults, we all know in our hearts that it was abolished not because it was a failure, but because it was successful. It provided valuable services for Londoners and promoted London-wide policies such as the "Fares Fair" transport system, which I thought was absolutely brilliant and which my constituents still talk about. That is precisely what we need in London—strategic planning.

We have only to look around us to know how attractive London is and how many tourists come here. We live in a beautiful capital city, full of history and pageant, but it is not a museum—real people live here and many have problems. It is not a theme park, to be closed at night, and nor is it a group of walled boroughs, each completely isolated and looking after its own interests. Although we have the village philosophy, we need to co-operate. What happens to London in business and transport affects my constituents and everyone throughout London.

I love London, as do my constituents. I would not choose to live anywhere else, but London deserves better than it has had over the past 11 years. We shall not impose a strategic body on Londoners; we shall hold a referendum to ask them whether they want one. I am confident that they will give a resounding yes to a strategic London authority, bringing about regeneration and cross-London planning on transport, environment and many other issues.

Just as Romford is a crossroads, I believe that London is at the crossroads of making a great decision to look to a better, more exciting future.

12.39 pm
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am delighted to see you in the Chair; thank you for calling me in this important debate.

I join all Members on both sides of the House in congratulating the hon. Member for Romford (Mrs. Gordon) on her maiden speech, which she gave with assurance and panache. I listened with interest as she spoke of the importance of Romford as a market town for more than 750 years. The laws governing Romford market have a reverberating effect even in my constituency, about seven miles away. I listened with interest when she pointed out the importance of the brewing industry in Romford. I was especially pleased that she paid tribute to her predecessor, Sir Michael Neubert, who was widely respected on both sides of the House and served the people of Romford with distinction for 23 years.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), remarking on the state of the Conservative party in London after 1 May, said that we might approach our responsibilities with decent humility and decent wariness. I can oblige him in response to the first part of that statement because, as the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford)—whom I am glad to see in his new place with his new responsibilities—quite out of order, introduced us visually to his new geopolitical map of London, it came to me vividly that I might be described as the blue pimple on London's head.

In my brief remarks, I shall genuinely seek information on, and question the basis of what I believe to be, the Government's approach to the governance of London and the introduction of a Greater London authority.

I have some questions to ask the Under-Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues. I understood from a speech in the debate on the Loyal Address a couple of weeks or so ago that the Government originally intended to publish a White Paper on London later in the summer—I believe that that was the phrase. We now hear that a Green Paper will be published next month. I have no quarrel with that; in fact, it is preferable not to dispense with a Green Paper.

However, I wonder whether, on such an important issue, a three-month consultation period is sufficient, especially as it will embrace what is euphemistically described as the holiday period—in the case of Parliament, the summer recess. More important, the Under-Secretary will need more than three months before he publishes the White Paper, because he will want to consider points that have been made, so I would not expect that White Paper to be published before December at the earliest, and probably early 1998.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and others, I sincerely believe that the Bill should be published before a referendum is held, because I fear that the Government have put the cart before the horse. They are saying that a new government for London is a good thing, but they have not spelt out the implications, one of the most important of which must be the cost to Londoners of doing what the Government seek to do.

A governmental system for London that includes an elected Greater London authority and a separately elected mayor, may be a recipe for division and disappointment. There is such a thing—it is embedded in human nature—as empire building. If I were directly elected as a member of the Greater London authority, I would recognise the importance of that responsibility and would seek to represent my constituents as best I could, just as I do in the House. But if I were elected mayor of Greater London—I assure the House that I am not seeking the job—I would believe that I had the support of the majority of Londoners when representing their interests in a way that might differ from the way in which a member of the GLA might think their interests should be represented. I ask the Minister to consider that carefully.

There is also the matters of costs and how the money is to be raised. Here, I agreed with one of the many points made by my recently reintroduced right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark).

There will also be confusion between the roles of the mayor of Greater London and of the Lord Mayor of London. Perhaps a different title should be given to the newer office holder.

I have considerable concern about the structure, role and responsibilities of the GLA. Of course, it will take strategic decisions, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal pointed out, such decisions often extend well beyond the boundaries of Greater London. Some tube lines go well outside the area; the Metropolitan police area also goes outside it in at least two places. Such complications can be overcome, but they must be recognised for what they are.

If it is the will of the people of London that the Government bring in a Bill, the Government will have to be very careful when dividing up planning responsibilities. There was great confusion under the old GLC. I declare a possible conflict of interest: I am a non-practising chartered town and country planner. The Minister will recall that, under the old system, certain planning applications, if passed by the London borough—the local planning authority—had to go to the GLC for approval. Many people asked why the GLC had to approve them, given that they had first been approved by the London borough. If, however, the GLC turned down a strategic planning application, the applicants could go to the Secretary of State on appeal.

Is such a division of planning functions necessary, with the introduction of a second tier of government for London? Do the Government intend strategic planning decisions to go directly to the GLA, or will the GLA exercise the role of the Secretary of State in the planning appeals process? If the latter, the transfer of the planning inspectorate to London will involve additional costs. Without a clear demarcation, I foresee problems. That is one of the areas where, whatever the Government decide, the result will be that powers are taken away from the London boroughs. That could happen in other areas—education, for example.

I note that the Government's paper, "A Voice for London", issued in April 1996, said that the Greater London authority would be responsible for identifying educational and training needs across London. Is that not precisely what London boroughs and TECs—training and enterprise councils—are doing in London? If the GLA is to do that, will there not be an unnecessary duplication of bureaucracy? However, the Government may have it in mind to give additional powers to the GLA which will mean taking certain powers away from the London boroughs as the local educational authorities. The issues must be examined closely.

There is to be a new police board. How many people will serve on it? There are 32 London boroughs, plus the City of London, although it has a separate police authority, which may be a point to consider. It is said in the Labour party election manifesto or in "A Voice for London" and probably in both—I hope that they are consistent—that a majority of the members of the new police board would be members of the Greater London authority, but there will be nominees from London boroughs and other organisations. Clearly, that will not include every London borough. Will that be a point of dissension? Careful thought must be given to the matter before the new police board is set up.

I give one other example, on the vexed question of health. To mention health in the London borough of Barnet causes great controversy, about which we may hear if a Labour Member catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

A Labour party paper states that the new Greater London authority will give an annual report on the health of the capital. Surely that can be gleaned already from the annual reports of the local health authorities. Is there any need for an additional bureaucracy to do that? The task can hardly be taken away from the local health authorities, because the information will have to be gleaned from them by the new GLA. Again, there could be confusion or unnecessary bureaucracy, unless—I dare to suggest—the Government have it in mind that the GLA will take certain health powers away from the local health authorities or the NHS trusts. That point must be looked into with great care.

I shall finish by trying to encapsulate the problems that my constituents will face if the proposal proceeds after the referendum. Chipping Barnet, which is a third of the London borough of Barnet, originally used to be in Hertfordshire. I readily acknowledge that the GLC was introduced by a Conservative Government. Although I was not around Chipping Barnet at the time, I am sure that, if there had been a referendum then, 95 per cent. of my constituents living then would have said that they wanted no part of the amorphous new Greater London area. My constituency has been enlarged. Parts of it were in the old Middlesex, but the same situation would have arisen for those constituents.

What price did Barnet pay 30 years ago and more when the GLC was set up? It lost the immediacy and the local flavour of the lowest—I do not mean that in the pejorative sense—level of local government. It lost its urban district council, rural district council and municipal borough. My constituents have to travel further to get decisions made on local matters, such as street lighting and street cleaning.

The plus side was that the London boroughs took on more responsibilities than the old urban district councils, rural district councils and municipal boroughs. For example, they took on the responsibility of education. Decisions on education had been decided metaphorically at county hall at Hertford. Thereafter, decisions were made at Hendon town hall or, literally, Friern Barnet town hall. Certain important functions were handled, and decisions taken, on a more local level.

Over-arching all that was the Greater London council. When the GLC was first formed, it had specific powers. Those powers grew, but not officially through an Act of Parliament. They intervened, however, more and more in more and more areas. That was the cause of the GLC's unpopularity in my constituency.

I ask the Government to examine carefully the proposed functions and responsibilities that we are considering. I fear that my constituents may get the worst of both worlds. My initial conclusion is that, whatever I may have read about the Government's intentions—I accept, of course, that the Green Paper has not yet been published—there will be more bureaucracy, greater costs and more remote local government.

Who will pay the increased costs? Will the Government meet a higher proportion of the standard spending assessment or will the Bill be met by the council tax payer? If the latter, what part will business play? I do not know whether it is the Government's intention dramatically to alter or abolish the uniform business rate, but, unless they do so, the additional costs will fall on the council tax payer, not on local traders and businesses.

It has been said in the debate that 70 per cent. of businesses in London want a Greater London authority. That enhances my argument that it is superficially popular to have a GLA when my constituents are being offered a menu without being told the cost. I shall do all that I can to influence the Government in a constructive and, as far as possible, non-controversial spirit to publish the Bill before the referendum, even if that means delaying the referendum beyond 7 May 1998. The electors are surely entitled to know exactly what they are voting for rather than merely being asked to vote on trust, with the so-called—but vital—details to be sorted out later.

12.58 pm
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

I am pleased to be able to make my maiden speech on the important topic of the future of London. I thank the people of Hendon for putting their confidence in me and in new Labour by electing me as the first Member for the new constituency of Hendon. I congratulate them on having the full set of a Labour-led council, a Labour Member of the European Parliament and a Labour Member in this place.

I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and for Romford (Mrs. Gordon) on their excellent maiden speeches. I shall follow the usual convention of acknowledging the work of my predecessors in representing Hendon constituencies.

Sir John Gorst represented the old seat of Hendon, North for 27 years. He was a respected constituency Member. Most recently he stood up for Edgware general hospital, unfortunately without success, against his own Government, who decided to close it in the run-up to the election. I should also like to mention John Marshall, because part of the old seat of Hendon, South has been incorporated into mine. He worked hard for his constituents, in particular to build links with the Jewish community. His work on holocaust denial was extremely important to his constituents, and I intend to follow it up.

When preparing for this speech, I looked up the maiden speech of Hendon's last Labour Member, Mrs. Ayrton Gould, who was elected in 1945. Her speech was a brave one for the time as she called for the sharing of atom secrets and better relations with Russia. Since then, the cold war has come and gone and her ideals are at last coming to fruition.

I suspect that if Mrs. Ayrton Gould visited Hendon today, she would barely recognise it. In 1945, she would have known Hendon aerodrome, which was vital to our wartime defence, and the original home of British aviation, where Claud Grahame-White first flew aircraft in this country. The aerodrome is now gone, but parts of its structure can still be found in the magnificent Royal Air Force museum, which is well worth a visit, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you have never been. The site is also home to Grahame Park, one of the biggest public housing estates in London. It is one of the areas to which I intend to pay particular interest in the House. Part of that site has also been transformed into the Peel centre, the premier police training establishment in the country.

I also doubt whether Mrs. Ayrton Gould could have anticipated the dramatic economic shift in the constituency from manufacturing and engineering to the retail sector, which includes Brent Cross, one of the country's most important shopping centres. She could not have anticipated the wonderfully exciting, diverse and vibrant multi-ethnic community that Hendon has become.

Perhaps I should also mention another former resident of Hendon, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) who is an old boy of Hendon school. Incidentally, he is also a constituent of mine in my Westminster council ward.

Mr. Merchant

Oh, dear.

Mr. Dismore

I am not sure whether that will get me into trouble.

Hendon is a constituency of contrasts. It consists of the apparently better-off areas of Hale, Edgware, Mill Hill and what people know as Hendon proper, and areas of great need such as Burnt Oak and parts of Colindale and West Hendon. Despite those outward differences, Hendon shares many concerns which the proposed authority for London can and will address.

Given that 5,000 families—almost one in four households of working age—have no breadwinner, a strategic authority, fighting here and abroad for inward investment, will play a vital role in rejuvenating the capital's economy. That will bring jobs to Hendon and elsewhere in the capital.

Once the authority has overall responsibility for London's transport, it will be able to put into practice Labour's commitment to an integrated transport network. At last it will be able to make a start on tackling years of Tory failure which have led to a three-year delay to the desperately needed track modernisation of the Northern line. That has caused much misery to Hendon commuters.

The overall, unifying concern of my constituents, which dominates all others, is health. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) referred to that, and we share a common interest in the provision of health services in Barnet. Although the delivery of health care must remain the job of the NHS, I hope that the new Londonwide authority will adopt a strategic role to monitor the provision of health services in London.

As I have already said, immediately before the general election the Conservatives rushed through the closure of Edgware general hospital, including its accident and emergency department. That caused chaos at the alternative facilities of Barnet and Northwick Park. It also caused distress to those of my constituents who unfortunately needed A and E treatment. They have to make long and difficult journeys to those alternative facilities, such as that in the constituency of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet. They face intolerable waiting times of up to four hours at Barnet and up to eight hours at Northwick Park.

Indeed, on occasions, that hospital had to refuse to treat any further patients. This left my constituents in pain and distress as they have had to wait far too long, often overnight, on hospital trolleys until treatment was available. I am grateful, therefore, to my hon. Friend the Minister for Health for the review that he announced into the problems caused by the over-hasty closure of Edgware hospital and how they can best be solved and public confidence in the NHS restored in Barnet.

I also passionately believe that the wide-ranging review into what can now be achieved at Edgware represents an exciting opportunity and challenge to all of us in Hendon and the neighbouring constituencies—the community, Members of Parliament, councillors, health service staff, health authorities and trusts—because for the first time, in what I am sure will be an extremely open and participative process, we will be given a chance to work together, to build a consensus, to identify needs, priorities and resources and to develop ideas for Edgware hospital for the 21st century, building up the service rather than having plans imposed from above, as always happened in the past 18 years under the Conservatives.

If the proposed London authority is to have a health monitoring role, and if the review works, as I confidently expect it to, I am sure that it will prove a valuable model of community participation in health planning—a model of which the new London authority can take heed.

For those reasons, and many others, my constituents welcome the Government's plan for a Londonwide authority. When we have the referendum, the people of Hendon will overwhelmingly support the proposal.

1.6 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), although a daunting prospect because he gave us such an entertaining and interesting speech. I congratulate him on making such an erudite maiden speech.

I would also like to offer the hon. Gentleman my sympathy and condolence for having the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) in his constituency. This obviously brings a new meaning to the big brother state. I hope that the health service in the hon. Gentleman's constituency improves, because having the hon. Member for Hartlepool looking over his shoulder all the time might not be good for his health.

From listening to Labour Members and to my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), it is clear that a great consensus is emerging on the new government for London. That consensus spreads to the wider community—the business community, as the Minister said, in the boroughs, and in the population of London as a whole. The need to remove the quango state that was introduced by the previous Government, and the need for a strategic authority that is democratically accountable to the people and will take a strategic perspective on issues such as employment, transport and the environment—issues that affect the daily lives of our constituents—is crucial.

There is a genuine debate, however, about the suitability and appropriateness of having a directly elected mayor. My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey described our position clearly. I am concerned that we will have some very odd hybrid if we have an elected authority and a directly elected mayor. The mandates will clash. It will be a recipe for confusion, and the only way around that—perhaps a separation of powers model—is a recipe for gridlock.

I see no merit in a directly elected mayor. Indeed, I endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). Why are we not going for the tried and tested model of party competition for the new strategic authority? That seems sensible. I would support a strategic authority that was elected in a proportionally representative system. I urge the Minister not to be affected by "manifestitis" and to be open to the idea of having a multi-question referendum.

I am very grateful for having this early opportunity to make my maiden speech. I am the first ever Member of Parliament for the new constituency of Kingston and Surbiton. It was formed from the old Surbiton seat and from the southern part of the old Kingston upon Thames seat and covers a number of communities, from Malden Rushett, Chessington and Hook in the south, through to Tolworth, Berrylands, New Malden, Norbiton and Worcester Park. It covers three quarters of the royal borough of Kingston, which through its long and distinguished history has previously returned only Conservative Members of Parliament to the House, so I am especially pleased that the royal borough is now represented on the Liberal Democrat Benches, by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge). It is a great responsibility, but I look forward to meeting the challenge.

My predecessor in the Surbiton seat, Richard Tracey, was first elected in 1983. He has a long history of public service and, on behalf of my constituents, I thank him for all his work over the years for the people who live in the Surbiton area. I trust that his experience in the media as a former BBC presenter will suit him well as he embarks on a new career.

My predecessor in the Kingston upon Thames seat was perhaps better known in the House. I recommend that hon. Members who want to inquire about how he is getting on go to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), from whom I understand that Mr. Lamont is doing very well. He is remembered affectionately by many of his constituents, whom he helped.

In a former life, I was an avid reader of his speeches as I used to assist my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in his many battles with the former Chancellor, but it is not Mr. Lamont's speeches as Chancellor that I reflected on in making my maiden speech and wanting to pay tribute to him. I looked back at his very good maiden speech, which I recommend to other hon. Members. I should like to quote one or two phrases from it because they reflect interestingly on recent debates.

For example, Mr. Lamont said early on in his speech: I have to admit that for some years I have been strongly pro-European. Hansard does not record whether he said that sotto voce, but he went on: I hope that everyone will agree that by making an uncompromisingly European speech I am being as non-controversial as it is possible to be. If only that were still the case. I recommend the speech because it talks about the advantages of European governance. He said: At least in the Community there is nothing secret about the way in which the Commission's thinking is developing. It is a shame only that, when he took office, he did not reflect on those views and still kept, unfortunately, the Budget purdah. I hope that this Government will be a little more open.

My favourite part of the speech is when the former Chancellor discussed the foreign exchange markets. He referred to currency volatility in the early 1970s and stated: One wonders how much of last year's currency upheaval could have been avoided had there been a joint European strategy".—[Official Report, 13 July 1972; Vol. 840, c. 1887–92.] How times have changed since 1972.

I do not, however, want to dwell on the past. My constituents' main concern is education—our future. Kingston schools are extremely popular, and teachers, parents, governors, councillors and council officials work very hard to deliver high-quality education in our area, but in recent years their efforts have been thwarted by cuts imposed by central Government, which have led to huge overcrowding and some of the largest class sizes in the country.

Efforts to absorb those cuts from central Government have proved impossible within the current draconian system of local government finance, so, unfortunately, some of the cuts have been experienced in schools. To meet previous cuts, the authority had to run down its reserves, which are now at the minimum prudential level, yet in the past three years the grant has been cut by £15.1 million.

The authority has worked hard to make efficiency savings to try to meet that challenge and has achieved savings of nearly £4 million, but last year's cut was just one too many and schools felt it badly. In looking to next year, my concern is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will somehow be able to escape from the trap on public spending in which he has put himself. I am filled with dread when I hear him reiterate the Labour party's manifesto commitment to keep the previous Government's public spending controls for the next two years. When one talks to professionals, one realises that the claim that money from the abolition of the assisted places scheme will fill that gap insults their intelligence. More money is needed.

Cuts have been made not only in schools but in further and higher education. In Kingston college, last year's settlement means that 20 teachers—10 per cent. of the staff, in one college, in one year—may face redundancy.

I hope that there is a plan to escape that trap somehow. Liberal Democrats will make no apology for returning to this issue time and again, because it is at the heart of the education debate. Until we have more resources for schools and colleges, sanity will not return to the education system.

If the Government put education at the top of their agenda, as they said they would, we shall be helpful, and make suggestions. In that spirit, as they prepare for the future, I would like to offer them an idea for their welfare-to-work proposals. In my constituency we have Hillcroft college, which presents a unique example of the type of programme that the Government should have in mind.

Hillcroft is the only adult education institution in the country geared solely to the needs of women. Over many years it has helped women who missed out on their first chance of education; women who as single parents are trying to find a path back into the workplace; and women who had previously been dependent on the social security system.

In a recent visit to the college, I was most impressed by the way in which the college supports individual women's needs, as some try to repair some of the self-confidence that was shattered by some of the previous Government's policies. I recommend that Ministers come to my constituency, visit Hillcroft and use it as an example in their deliberations on the Government's welfare-to-work proposals.

In Kingston and Surbiton there is a wealth of examples of policy initiatives that the Government could usefully study—some to follow and some to forget. Kingston university has expanded tremendously over the past few years, and I hope that the proposals in the Dearing report will enable that process to continue.

Unfortunately, many problems have been caused by police cuts in Kingston. In the past two years we have lost more than 40 officers.

The need for a strategic transport policy is one of the subjects of the debate today. In Kingston we certainly have not had such a policy. Moreover, South West Trains has made appalling cuts in services, and the recent infamous cuts have caused many problems for my constituents.

The accident and emergency department in Kingston hospital experiences queues every day of the week. Unfortunately, until there is more capital funding to build a new accident and emergency department there, those problems will continue.

One Kingston policy is highly germane to the debate, and I recommend it to the Government. For the past three years the borough council has pursued the policy of devolution of power to neighbourhoods. The neighbourhood system has been a huge success. In the past, central committee meetings were held at the guildhall, and a few political aficionados used to attend and listen to the debates. There was little participation, and the general public did not know what was going on.

Now, seven neighbourhood committees have been set up round Kingston, which is the smallest borough in London. Many people come to the meetings and participate, and democracy has flourished in our borough. The efficacy of policy decisions, too, has improved because of the public participation.

The success of the neighbourhood system, that revolution in decentralising power within a borough, has become so famous that many people have come to Kingston to study it. After the first two years of its implementation, the previous Government's district auditor produced a glowing value for money report on it.

The report said: Communications between officers and with citizens appear to have improved as a result of the neighbourhood structure", and there is real value in local diversity … for many service areas, there is clear justification for delegation to achieve a local focus". The extra marginal cost was found to be minimal, and the auditor also noted that the royal borough of Kingston operated on staff numbers that were among the lowest for outer London borough councils.

The district auditor was not alone in praising the value of the neighbourhood system. In a recent document entitled "Innovative models of local authority working", the local government management board said: Kingston has achieved much and is a good example of clear devolution plans being carefully implemented in a very limited timescale. Its experience is well worth considering and drawing upon.

We have heard today about the powers of the strategic authority and how it will be elected, but I hope that any Green or White Paper will refer also to the inter-relationship between the strategic authority and the borough councils—and between councils themselves, and within councils—so the debate is not just about the strategic authority; it is about all aspects of the future governance of London.

I would like an assurance from the Minister that any future Green or White Paper will allow scope to discuss models of how power can be decentralised within, and to, boroughs. Taking power from the centre to empower communities and citizens was what the neighbourhood system in Kingston was all about. If that is the goal of the Government's proposals for the governance of London, they will be a great success and improve the lives of the people of London. After all, it was the Prime Minister who, in the John Smith memorial lecture on 7 February 1996, said: I want to enable local communities to decide more things for themselves through local councils. I agree, and I hope that the Government's proposals for the future governance of London follow that statement.

1.20 pm
Mr. Anthony Colman (Putney)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am most grateful to you for calling me to make my maiden speech today. I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) on his speech, and I look forward to working with him in south-west London to resolve many of the area's problems, particularly in the health service. I also congratulate my Labour colleagues who have made their maiden speeches today—my hon. Friends the Members for Romford (Mrs. Gordon), for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and for Hendon (Mr. Dismore).

I have the honour of representing a constituency that has been served in the past by distinguished right hon. Members of Parliament. Hugh Jenkins—now Lord Jenkins of Putney—served as the Member of Parliament for Putney between 1964 and 1979 and, of course, was Arts Minister in the 1970s. He continues to take an interest in the arts and theatre, as does my immediate predecessor, the right hon. and learned David Mellor—a man of many parts—who was a distinguished member of the previous Government. Both men served the people of Putney assiduously, and I hope to do so in as distinguished a way as they did. I wish my immediate predecessor a happy retirement from this House as he pursues his other main interest—which, he assures me, is football.

I would like to bring to the attention of the House four areas of concern to my constituents. Putney, which includes Southfields and Roehampton, is one of the loveliest and greenest constituencies in London. However, there are great worries on the part of my constituents. First, there is high unemployment and deprivation, particularly in the Roehampton area, where unemployment levels are 14 per cent. and higher. One third of the children of Putney live in poverty.

Secondly, many thousands of leaseholders who have bought their properties from Wandsworth council are now crippled by high bills and fearful of what will be done to them next by that council. They have properties that they cannot sell, and they are looking to a Labour Government to help them, because Wandsworth council has not done so.

Thirdly, I wish to refer to health. I remind the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton why he has vast queues at his local accident and emergency unit. On 1 April, the previous Government imposed swingeing cuts at Queen Mary's university hospital, closing acute surgery, orthopaedic, paediatric and maternity units and downgrading its accident and emergency services. The cuts were disgraceful, and were not opposed by Wandsworth council. It is important that the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) and for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) work together to ensure that Queen Mary's university hospital makes a full service available to our constituents.

The fourth matter that I want to bring to the attention of the House is pollution. Traffic pollution is appalling in Putney. Traffic comes roaring down the A3, and hon. Members may be interested to know that Putney bridge is the most used bridge in London: 70,000 vehicles cross it every day, and 10,000 more a day have been using it since the closure of Hammersmith bridge. There are appalling problems of air pollution and we suffer not only from cars but from aircraft noise. I intend to take up cudgels on behalf of my constituents to oppose a fifth terminal at Heathrow.

These issues go beyond one constituency or one borough. They need a Londonwide solution. London groans under quangos and arrangements without responsibility. It is crying out for a strategic elected authority and mayor. For the past two years, I have had the privilege of leading, on behalf of the Association of London Government, the London Agenda 21 initiative, working in partnership with the London Chamber of Commerce International, London First, Age Concern London, Southeast Region Trades Union Congress, National Union of Students London, Black Environmental Network, London Voluntary Services Council and other London boroughs, with the financial support of the Corporation of London.

On 18 June, in time for the United Nations special assembly, the steering group will publish proposals for plans, targets and indicators for London based on the principles of sustainable development, incorporating plans for economic development, social equity and environmental protection.

Who will carry out those plans? Of course the organisations that I have mentioned will work together, but every one of them wants an elected strategic authority. What is missing is that authority, or that mayor, to provide the muscle to put into practice the vision for a sustainable London and to deal with the problems of Putney and all the other London constituencies, on a pan-London basis. I look forward to the referendum in May 1998 and to having the authority and the mayor in place in 2000, ready to implement London's Agenda 21 for the coming century.

I started this maiden speech in time-honoured fashion by talking about my constituency. In a debate on governance it behoves me to remind the House of the Army debates of 1647–350 years ago—held in St. Mary's church, Putney, and chaired by Oliver Cromwell. I shall quote briefly from Thomas Rainborowe, whose words echo down the centuries and are relevant to our debate today.

Thomas Rainborowe, who was the leader of the levellers, said: I think that the poorest He that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest He, and … that every man that is to live under a Government ought first, by his own consent, to put himself under that Government, and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in the strict sense to that Government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under. I believe, in the spirit of the levellers and of Thomas Rainborowe, that a new form of voting—proportional representation—should be used for the election of the mayor and the strategic authority, to ensure the support of the majority of Londoners in any election.

Let Londoners speak in the referendum; let them remove the unelected quangos and the existing fudge of Londonwide bodies; let them, by their consent, put themselves under a strategic, elected Londonwide authority and mayor; and let London be the first truly sustainable capital city in the world.

1.27 pm
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on his excellent and mellifluous maiden speech. It is rumoured that he does not need to seek to match the wealth of his predecessor, but if he succeeds in matching his eloquence, he will certainly make his mark on the House. I wish him every success in doing so and look forward to hearing his—no doubt—many contributions to come.

It is sensible for the House to debate from time to time the structure of government in London. After all, London is a huge city with many millions of people and its dynamism means that there is constant change, so it is right to consider from time to time whether the structure of government still matches the need. What may have suited one era, or indeed one area, at one time, may no longer do so. We should proceed with considerable caution. We should adopt the famous adage, attributed both to the Duke of Wellington and to Lord Acton, that when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. That was rendered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) in the vernacular as, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

We must apply two tests to the future of local government in London. First, is there a problem in the existing structure of government that is so severe as to require a major revamp, with all the costs and confusion that that would cause, to put it right? Secondly, if it is accepted as necessary, does the detail of the proposal provide a better structure? To deal with the first question first: to criticise the existing structure is to imply a criticism of the London boroughs. That is effectively saying that the London boroughs are inadequate in handling the local government issues that need to be dealt with for the people of London.

I strongly defend the London boroughs. First, they work effectively, they generally deliver high-quality services, and they are flexible enough to match the very varying needs of different parts of London. Secondly, their size is about optimum. They are not so small as to be inefficient, and they are not so big as to lose their local purpose. A London borough can deal with problems on its patch coherently, and in a way that normally covers a geographically sensible size. They are also small enough to be close to the people whom they seek to represent and govern. They are not too remote and are therefore accountable.

The danger with larger units is that they begin to lose such accountability, locality and directness. Most councillors on London boroughs are sufficiently aware of the whole borough to understand not only the problems and needs of the ward that they represent but those of every other area in the borough. It would be an unusual councillor on a Greater London authority who would be well enough equipped to make good judgments on behalf of other parts of the metropolis.

If one accepts that a Greater London authority is needed, one must consider not only the positive contributions of the boroughs but the negative features of having an extra tier of government. That is what an authority would be, however the light the touch of the proposal. We must take into account the fact that we would immediately have more government and more politicians; more regulations and edicts would flow from the new body. There would also be more costs, which would require more taxation. We would have more bureaucrats and employees.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) said, there is also an automatic instinct for empire building. I remember the beginnings of the metropolitan county councils. I was on Tyneside when Tyne and Wear metropolitan county was set up. I was not in politics then—I was in the disreputable profession of journalism—but I had to sit in on many of the initial committee and full council meetings.

I watched the authority striving for a role. Newly elected members were determined to cut out a political purpose in life. The responsibilities then given to the metropolitan counties were not sufficient to satisfy their thirst. They therefore started setting up committees to deal with matters that were not part of the original purpose of county councils to justify their existence. From there they moved on to trying to take action on matters that were not part of the council's original purpose. They continually tried to expand the authority of the new county councils. They inevitably clashed with the borough and district councils in their area, so turf wars began.

One of the greatest problems that could emerge if we had a new greater London authority is the battle that would inevitably break out between the new authority, which would try to exert itself and extend its powers, and the boroughs, which would understandably want to hold on to the powers and responsibilities that they have had for many years. I do not believe the assurance that has been given that that will not happen and can be avoided. It is inevitable when two tiers represent one area.

The argument that has been advanced for a greater London authority is the so-called strategic argument: the need to have some form of strategic planning authority. That is merely a soundbite. It sounds good to say to businesses or to people on the doorstep, "Let's have a strategic authority; let's deal with the strategic problems," but the conversation usually ends there. The problem is that, like all soundbites, it lacks substance. What do we mean by "strategic"? That word has developed in the past 20 years: it is common in business and politics, but what does it mean? What will the authority deal with, because I am not convinced that "strategic" has a clear meaning. The word is thrown around in common parlance among politicians and others without most of the people who use it thinking about what it means.

I turned for inspiration to the Labour party. I got hold of a copy of its policy document, "A Voice for London", which gave me many happy hours of reading. I looked to see what was proposed for this strategic authority. It contains a number of headings. Under "Leisure", it gives a description of what leisure involves to initiate those who are not already aware of that. It refers to leisure responsibilities and says: It's not intended that they should be returned to the control of the new authority". So we can rule that out for a start. That is half a page wasted.

Under "Housing", it says: We are not proposing that the Greater London Authority should be responsible for providing housing. So housing is not included. Under "Education and training", it says: Provision of schools, colleges and universities will not come under the aegis of the new Greater London Authority. Under "Health", it says: We do not propose, however, that it should control or direct the health service in London. We are learning a great deal about exactly what it will not be doing. It is very efficient of the Labour party to spend so much time telling us that.

On the police, it refers to partnership approaches at local levels and says: We would not want to set back any of these welcome developments. So it has been suggested that the policing function might best be discharged by a board responsible to the Greater London Authority with a majority of members drawn from the authority … including nominees from the boroughs and other organisations. If the Government want a board drawn from the boroughs and other organisations, why do they need to insert another tier?

Similarly, the document refers to the fire brigade and suggests: One possible way would be for the Greater London Authority to manage the fire brigade through a board on which both the authority and the boroughs are represented". My same argument applies.

We are left with only three subjects out of all those for which the greater London authority could be responsible. So more time is spent telling us what it will not do rather than telling us what it will do. One of those subjects is pollution and related issues. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal went into some detail about pollution, and said that it does not recognise borough boundaries. It does not recognise the greater London boundary, either. The best way to deal with pollution is internationally, nationally and locally. To insert a regional tier would complicate rather than assist.

Even the document accepts that, while the Greater London authority would be able to identify problems, action would be taken by the responsible authorities. The Greater London authority would therefore presumably pontificate on matters that are already being dealt with and would not take action. The document reveals that even transport and land use will not be matters for the greater London authority, but will be delegated to others. All that leaves me puzzled about what the so-called strategic authority would be doing. Why do we need to become involved in the complexity and chaos of setting up an extra tier when the majority of the functions are being carried out well?

I am not attempting to suggest that everything in the garden is rosy. I am happy to accept that, while most functions are currently carried out effectively by the London boroughs, not all of them are. I accept that there may be a need to change some of the arrangements for the Greater London area that currently exist. I remain unconvinced that a change as major as that being proposed by the Government is necessary. Small changes in individual areas where there is a problem or insufficient overview could be achieved much more simply through sensible co-operation between the existing elected bodies—namely, the boroughs—and, where necessary, the Government.

I wish to raise a few peripheral points that spring from the general wider argument about whether or not there is a need for a second-tier authority. The first is the strange suggestion that we should have an elected mayor. It is not clear from either the Labour party's policy document or the Government's statements today whether they are keen on it or whether it was a soundbite that was thrown in for good measure and was to be disposed of quickly.

It is clear that many Labour Members do not like the idea. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) summed up their dilemma. If the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is correct and the post could, owing to the power concentrated in one man, become dangerous, perhaps the title should be—to continue the theme of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea—proconsul. That would reflect the extent of the powers that one man or woman would have in representing an area as large as London. If we used a classical Greek term, perhaps the person should be dubbed the tyrant. Bearing in mind his great knowledge as a historian of the second world war, I am surprised that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea did not say that the person could be dubbed the gauleiter. Whether or not that idea comes to fruition, it is dangerous.

I welcome the suggestion that the Government's proposals should be put to the people of London via a referendum. I do so for a number of reasons. As a matter of principle I have always been strongly attracted to referendums, both nationally and locally. I know that, in that, I differ from many of my hon. Friends and no doubt from many Labour Members who feel that referendums have no place in parliamentary democracy. But I am convinced that they have a role to play, both in theory and in practice.

I should like to see referendums more widely used, but one must be cautious about them. The nature of the question asked can determine the outcome, so a referendum must be a genuine consultation exercise, not a gesture or a plebiscite designed to try to give a Government the authority to do what they want. If a referendum is to be a genuine consultation exercise, it must be approached with an open mind, the questions must be carefully discussed and a consensus must be reached between those of different views on the fairness of the questions. Sufficient information must be made available so that voters can make a fair judgment.

If the Government are to use a referendum, it is incumbent on them to ensure that the questions are wide in nature, balanced and fair and—crucially—that sufficiently detailed information is made available to the public so that they vote, not just on a vague idea, but with the knowledge of the practical consequences of what is being suggested. The public need to know about matters such as the authority's powers and costs, how it will be financed and whether they will be taxed through it. Only then can the judgment that they make be taken seriously. I repeat that I welcome the idea of a referendum, but it must be carried out properly and carefully.

The Government should not close their mind to the suggestion made by some Conservative Members that, if a referendum is to be held, it should be extended to the boroughs in their strict geographical definition so as to allow individuals who live in boroughs within what is defined as Greater London to decide, borough by borough, whether they wish to participate in the proposed scheme. If we really want to reflect what ordinary people want, they should in fairness be given that choice, either as part of the main referendum or in a separate referendum, and always retain the right to opt in if they change their minds at some future date.

My final point relates to the question of boundaries—a matter touched on by the Minister and which is dealt with in greater detail in the Labour party's policy document. It states: There is no clear single natural boundary for Greater London. That is a truism. The policy paper went on to suggest three options, but appeared to rule out two of them, as did the Government earlier today. I urge the Government not to take a rigid view on London's boundaries and to keep an open mind about changes. If they wish to institute a Greater London authority, they should consider other ways of establishing boundaries, for example, so that it covers the area along the Thames as a river-based authority, or includes only the inner London area. The Government should not simply throw out those ideas.

My reason for urging that is obvious: I represent an outer London borough, and while I do not suggest that there is anything particularly sacrosanct about such boroughs, I must point out that the borough I represent differs greatly from many other parts of London—especially central London—and has different needs and priorities. It might well be that the people of my constituency would be better served by being outside a Greater London authority's coverage, although I am prepared to be convinced that that would not hold true for other parts of London.

The hon. Member for Brent, East spoke of London as a great urban mass, but that is not how much of Bromley looks. Were a Martian to land in the southern part of my constituency, it would see green fields, woodlands and farms. If it were then told that it was in the middle of a metropolis, it would be convinced that Earthmen were completely mad. That is also true of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam).

If the people of Biggin Hill were asked whether they lived in London, I suspect that their answer would be no. Similarly, if one went to what is known as the village of Hayes in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), one would find people who did not think that they lived in London but regarded themselves as living in a village. Indeed, the people who live in Hayes can walk down to the bottom of many of its streets and see green fields and open land.

For all those reasons, and because the consciousness of the people who live in the London borough of Bromley is, for the most part, not that of Londoners but of Kentish people—indeed, local people fought strongly for Kent to remain the postal line—it is important to look at where boundaries run. We must take into account not only the common interests of London, as the Government seek to do, but the important diversity of London, which is one of the city's strengths and which would be lost if an attempt were made to take it in a single centrally planned direction.

1.49 pm
Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North)

I am very grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate, especially as I am London-born and represent a London constituency. I congratulate the other hon. Members who have managed to catch your eye during the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to give their maiden speeches.

I pay tribute to my two Conservative predecessors in the old Ilford, North constituency, the most recent of whom, Mr. Vivian Bendall, gave service to the people of my area for 19 years. The other, Mr. Tom Iremonger, served a similar length of time, from 1954 to 1973.

As one of the 101 Labour woman Members elected to this Parliament, I feel that I am following a happy tradition, in that both previous Labour Members for Ilford, North have been women who won seats from the Conservatives, and both had distinguished records of public service.

Mabel Ridealgh, who entered the House at that other landslide election in 1945, was a national representative of the Co-operative Women's Guild and a member of the National Council for Social Service and the citizens advice bureau.

Millie Miller won her seat at the October 1974 general election and, by the time of her premature death in 1977, had become an extremely popular and well-loved Member of Parliament in the House and the constituency. She was the first Labour woman to lead a London borough, Camden, from 1971 to 1973. She was also a former mayor of that borough and of Stoke Newington. I am following in her footsteps in more ways than one, in that in May 1994, when Labour took minority control of the London borough of Redbridge for the first time in 30 years, I was elected as the first woman Labour mayor of that council and the first Labour mayor for 26 years.

Such is the respect and affection accorded to Millie Miller nearly 20 years after her death that an annual memorial lecture is still held in the constituency. Over the years, several of my right hon. and hon. Friends have paid tribute to her memory by delivering that lecture, including my right hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and for Livingston (Mr. Cook), my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and the late, much-missed former Member for Barking, champion of women's rights, Jo Richardson.

It is my particular privilege to represent the area where I have lived for nearly a quarter of a century. I only ever wanted to stand for Ilford, North and when I was selected, 18 months ago, it seemed almost an impossible dream, as the notional Conservative majority in the new constituency was more than 14,000. Indeed, as recently as February of this year, the BBC political research unit listed Ilford, North as "Conservative—very safe" and predicted that my predecessor, Mr. Bendall, had the assurance of a continued presence in the Commons and that his position seemed secure indeed.

It was also my aim to become a Member of Parliament before I was 50—an ambition now fulfilled with only a few weeks to spare, as I reach my half century on 29 June.

As well as including the northern part of Ilford in the London borough of Redbridge, the new Ilford, North constituency incorporates parts of Woodford formerly in the old Wanstead and Woodford seat, represented in the past by such distinguished gentlemen as our great wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill; Patrick Jenkin, now the right hon. Lord Jenkin of Roding; and the new hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who found another seat. They all gave long and valued service to that constituency.

Ilford, North, bordering on Essex and rising from part of the ancient great forest of Essex, enjoys the advantages of its situation in a London borough, with access to the centre, but also has the benefits of a pleasant environment, with two country parks and other open green space within easy distance.

Among other things, my constituency is famous for being home to a large number of licensed London taxi drivers. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) told a story about taxi drivers knowing the passenger's address. A lot of them know my address and know where I live because it is in the constituency. A considerable number of them are from the Jewish community. Ilford, North has one of the largest Jewish populations in western Europe.

Indeed, my first meeting with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was at the annual meeting of Jewish Care in November 1994, during my mayoral year. The warmth of his reception as the keynote speaker on that occasion showed me that Labour values were striking a chord with the Jewish community: family and community values, support for the individual within the community, the right of everyone to justice, freedom and opportunity, and the duty to act as responsible members of society.

In a letter to the Board of Deputies of British Jews before the general election, the Prime Minister wrote: The British Jewish community has made an immense contribution to our country. So many areas of our national life have been enriched and strengthened by the outstanding efforts of its members—in all areas of the arts, in our intellectual life and scientific achievement, in business life and wealth creation, in education, public service and politics, and in the spiritual life of our nation.

I am proud to represent this community in London and all the diverse groups that have made their homes in the constituency. As a Londoner, it is my special pleasure to have been elected as a supporter of a new Labour Government committed to restoring a voice for London, with a Londonwide, democratically elected authority—if supported in a referendum.

It was my good fortune some 25 years ago to work for the genuinely popular Greater London Council in the research library, now part of the London research centre. I pay tribute to the work of the staff of the research library and its successor—members and officers who have served the people of London over the years. In the early 1970s, the research library was part of the Department of Planning and Transportation, and it is obvious to me from my experience of working in that sphere, and from representing a constituency with eight Central line stations—and hence a large number of Underground commuters—that a strategic authority for London is desperately needed, particularly for planning and transportation matters.

The people of Ilford, North expect a Labour Government and an accountable London authority to improve their lives, restore respect for London and Londoners and renew London as a proud city of Europe and the world, reinvigorated and ready to play its full role in the new millennium as a worthy capital of this great country.

1.57 pm
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

Today, we have heard six and a half maiden speeches. The hon. Members for Romford (Mrs. Gordon), for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and for Ilford, North (Ms Perham) all made generous comments about their predecessors. I envy the hon. Member for Ilford, North for managing to get the seat that she always wanted. Many of us have been desperate to represent particular seats, but it never worked out that way. I also congratulate her on her honesty about her age—perhaps that is a sign of new Labour.

The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, paid a semi-generous tribute to his predecessor, whereas the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) paid his predecessor a distinctly ungenerous tribute, in language which I believe he will come to regret. Moreover, I am sure that his trenchant views on the future of London will have been noted by the Whips—as one would expect of new Labour.

Conservative Members have appreciated the tributes paid to Michael Neubert, John Gorst, John Marshall, Dick Tracey, Norman Lamont, David Mellor and Vivian Bendall. My party has recently had a traumatic experience, and we shall miss them all.

I do not know whether it is fair to call a speech by a retread a maiden speech, but we were all pleased by the return of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark). We revelled in his description of Kensington and Chelsea as an inner-city area—he is back with all the style for which he is famed. I am sure that we all welcome him back to the House.

London is a success, and it is a Conservative success.

Mr. Raynsford


Mr. Ottaway

The Minister has only to look at the opening words of his London manifesto, which states that London is one of the world's greatest cities. The Conservative party made it one of the world's greatest cities.

London is one of the most important commercial centres of the world. It has the largest foreign exchange markets and the leading shipping market, it straddles the time zone and speaks the universal language of commerce. London's economy is equal to that of many nations.

London is a financial capital. Each day in London more franc transactions are carried out than in Paris, and more German mark transactions are carried out than in Frankfurt. It is a capital city built not only on our historic financial institutions, but on tourism, fashion and the arts, for London is a cultural city as well. It is a magnet for Europeans who come to enjoy our restaurants, theatres and galleries and our heritage. All those people are in London to have a good time. It is no surprise that, for the first time since the 1960s, London in the 1990s is again regarded, according to a poll by Newsweek, as the coolest city on the planet".

In London, the cultural heritage of our nation meets the challenge of enterprise head on. We may have 20 museums, two opera houses and five orchestras, but we also have the most up-to-date technology and six competing fibre-optic networks. Countless European companies have chosen to locate their headquarters in London. They are keen to have a share of the most advantageous marketplace in the world.

That mixture of culture and business makes London the most exciting place on earth. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) quoted Dr. Johnson's saying: When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life". In the fine borough of Croydon, I am proud to represent a part of London.

London's success did not happen by chance: the Conservative Government made it happen. It is a Conservative success and we are entitled to take the credit for it. Whatever Labour Members may say, they cannot deny that they opposed most of the key decisions that led London to be the success that it is today.

The Government's contribution to the debate so far is the paper entitled "A Voice for London", which was published last year. The entire tone of that document was given to knocking London, exaggerating problems that exist and conjuring up some that do not. Yet again, the Labour party was playing politics and performing for the focus groups, when jobs, inward investment and the future of our capital were at stake.

Anything that has enabled London to thrive has been done in spite of the Labour party, which has nit-picked, found problems and talked London down. Now that Labour is in government, it proposes so-called solutions, which we shall criticise in a constructive manner. One thing that Labour cannot deny, however, is the success of our policies, which helped London to turn itself around.

London and the United Kingdom are a target for inward investment. Companies from around the world have located their headquarters in London, not just because they are attracted to our working practices and our good industrial relations, but above all because they find their own countries uncompetitive. It is no surprise that the UK is now the only European Union country in the top 10 of the world competitiveness league. For example, a German firm based in Frankfurt would pay twice the cost for a telephone call that it would pay in London. Its work force is rigid and expensive to hire. What is the Government's response? They sign up for the minimum wage and the social chapter.

Over the past 18 years, we have worked to build on London's strengths, not to undermine them. We encouraged the development of a cultural partnership between London's key players. Central Government, elected local government, business and the community are now working together to make London a success in a way that would have been inconceivable under the old GLC. That approach has been duplicated at a local level right across the capital. Public and private sector partnerships are being set up to promote and regenerate the local communities.

Docklands must be one of the largest and most successful regeneration projects anywhere in the world. The Conservative Government managed the development by removing sites from Labour local authorities that had failed to recognise the area's potential. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, redevelopment began. The results are remarkable. The number of people employed in the area has more than doubled. There is new transport infrastructure, new housing and new leisure sites.

There were problems and delays. After all, many said that the project could not be achieved. Conservatives, however, were determined that it would be. We would not stand by and see the potential of the area and its inhabitants overlooked.

Greenwich was not included. In 1979, when the land was taken from the control of the local authorities, the Greenwich peninsula, so jealously guarded by the local authority, was left untouched. Nothing happened, and that was Labour's contribution.

Mr. Raynsford

British Gas.

Mr. Ottaway

The hon. Gentleman says "British Gas." What efforts did Greenwich council make to enter into a partnership to develop the site? It took a Conservative Government to take the site and provide the initiative. An important lesson to learn is that it is not sufficient merely to talk of a new beginning. Commitment and, above all, action provide the foundation for improvement.

Mr. Raynsford

Will the hon. Gentleman, for the record, consider the fact that it was the Labour-controlled Greenwich council that gave planning permission to British Gas for a comprehensive development of the peninsula in the early 1990s, a development which British Gas failed to carry forward? Responsibility for the non-development of the site rests with British Gas.

As the hon. Gentleman appears to be approaching these issues through blue-tinted spectacles, will he reflect and give us his verdict on why the electorate of London, if it felt that everything was so rosy in its city, chose to eject the Conservative party so decisively in the general election?

Mr. Ottaway

The hon. Gentleman talks about action on the Greenwich peninsula. For 10 years, throughout the 1980s, nothing happened.

Mr. Raynsford

Planning permission.

Mr. Ottaway

Planning permission was given in the 1990s, when we had to take things over. Throughout the 1980s, the Labour party did nothing while the Conservative party regenerated the east end of London in a way that was not matched even by the Labour party's wildest dreams.

Mr. Gummer

Perhaps my hon. Friend would care to contrast yet again the difference between the areas that were run by the Docklands commission and those outside its remit, which were run by London's Labour local authorities, including Greenwich. During the 1980s, the commission re-created London, while Greenwich was left almost derelict by a local authority whose politics got in the way of regeneration.

Mr. Ottaway

My right hon. Friend makes exactly my point with force and with all his skill in, and experience of, local government.

Mr. McDonnell

It is money.

Mr. Ottaway

That is the very point. If a Cabinet Minister represents London and the wider strategic area, there will be results. A strategic authority that has no representation in government will not achieve anything.

The Government have proposed a strategic authority and a mayor. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) said, the strategic authority will have no worthwhile powers. The Government's approach is hidden in bureaucratic gobbledegook. The new authority would "help raise funds". We are told that it will "promote strategies". It seems that it will be involved in "identifying housing need". It will keep an eye on health provision. We are told that it will advise and encourage the "providers of education". It will be able to have an influence on the "provision of leisure facilities". In other words, it will have no power. It will be nothing but a talking shop.

The aim of an elected mayor or authority, if we are to have one or the other, should be to create an executive with serious clout. If we have an authority and a mayor, we want to see success. In other words, we shall want the system to work. It will need powers, if it is to achieve anything, to plan, tax and spend. It seems, however, that it will have none of those powers.

Mr. Raynsford

Yes, it will.

Mr. Ottaway

Well, we look forward with interest to seeing how those developments progress.

Labour's London mayor will have a mandate, but he will not have much power. His base will be the proposed new London authority, but it will not provide the main services. They will be provided by local councils, so the real power will still lie with the 32 London boroughs and non-elected officials of central Government. In short, the new mayor will be nothing other than a ribbon cutter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) has said, it is a recipe for instability.

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) used the GLC, rightly or wrongly, as the political base for his views rather than as a provider of services. Given that the new proposed authority will have even less power than the GLC, the new mayor will be sorely tempted to play the same game. The old GLC had a budget of more than £1 billion and 20,000 staff, yet, today, it is hard to find anything that it did which needed doing. The only thing that a new Greater London authority will create as it thrashes around trying to find a role for itself is more jobs for bureaucrats. They will be funded by Londoners, who will be penalised for living in London.

The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) said that no new taxation would be imposed as a result of the proposal. I challenged him on that in an intervention and referred to the Labour Government document "A Voice for London". It refers to the type of elections that may be held and says of the new authority This might not be appropriate in the case of an authority with limited spending and tax raising powers. I looked at the Under-Secretary as his hon. Friend said that to see whether he agreed or disagreed. I thought that his response was a rather neutral, if not negative, one. I look forward with interest to the reply from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson). I hope that she will clarify exactly what is meant by tax-raising powers. Who is right? Is it the hon. Member for Streatham or the Labour Government document?

A voice for London sounds great in principle, but will it give London the voice that it had in the early 1980s? Then, the GLC spoke out on foreign policy, nuclear disarmament and police matters, all of which had absolutely nothing to do with it. It ended up as a middleman, fighting everyone. Indeed, it fought its biggest campaign against its own abolition. About £3 million of Londoners' money was spent on that, which may have explained the 102 per cent. rates rise in the last year of its existence—some voice.

How do the Labour Government hope to carry London with them when they cannot even sell the policy to their own colleagues in local government? As the hon. Member for Brent, East said, the boroughs do not agree with the proposal. The Members representing London do not agree with it, and now more than half of the Labour council leaders do not support the proposal. Some have even gone further and publicly attacked it as lunacy.

The Labour leader of Barking and Dagenham, Mr. Brooker, has declared the plans for an elected mayor as nothing but a gimmick. I wonder whether the hon. Lady will clarify exactly how much that gimmick will cost. Perhaps she should also consult her colleague, the Labour leader of Merton council, now the hon. Member for Putney, who made his maiden speech today. In a newspaper article he wrote: I have been to cities in the US with a directly elected mayor and seen the distress it causes. The leader of the assembly and the mayor are continually fighting. Mr. Brooker, the leader of Barking and Dagenham, has said: The whole point of a new strategic authority for London was to give power back to elected members. This would take it away. It would be a retrograde step for democracy. Just imagine if someone like Dame Shirley Porter got the job. Mr. Brooker obviously does not share the view of the majority of the electorate of Westminster that Shirley Porter did a superb job for Westminster. [Laughter.] Labour Members may laugh, but Dame Shirley was continually re-elected.

Mr. Dismore


Mr. Ottaway

No, I do not have time to give way.

Imagine that one had Dame Shirley leading a local authority and the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, the hon. the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) as the mayor for London. The clash and conflict would be nothing but a recipe for disaster. If both the new authority and the mayor have power, political differences would mean gridlock. The relationship between elected mayor and new strategic authority is a particular aspect that we shall watch closely.

It is very early days on this subject and there are many things for all parties to consider. We shall look at the Government's proposals for London in—as on any issue—a constructive manner. Where we think that they are right, we shall agree with them. When we think that they are wrong, we shall oppose them. We do not believe that Labour needs further bureaucracy when so many successful partnerships are bearing fruit but, in view of the lobby fodder opposite, we have little choice but to sit back and watch from the wings.

There will, I believe, come a time when the new Government realise the folly of their plans. I can only restate my party's belief that London and Londoners should not, yet again, pay the price.

2.15 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson)

It is little wonder that the people of London so resoundingly rejected the Conservative party when the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman dubs as "lobby fodder" the representatives whom the people of London returned to the House. There could be no greater example of the overweening contempt for London and Londoners of the previous Administration, and again today by Opposition Front Benchers. They have an absolute unwillingness to accept that the people of London should have a direct voice in the affairs that govern their lives.

All debates in the House are important, for those who are fortunate to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, give voice to those whom we are sent here to serve—the people. That is what this morning's debate was most centrally concerned with: not in this instance giving, but rather restoring to London the democratic voice that is heard in every other city in the land through a directly elected authority—an authority chosen by the people, accountable to the people and entrusted with the duty to give practical and realisable form to the aspirations of the people for their city.

Alone among the cities in this kingdom—almost alone among the capitals of the world—London and Londoners have, for far too long, been without that precious link in the chain that joins neighbourhood to community, community to city and city to country. The Government are committed to reforging that link by the creation of a Greater London authority and a directly elected mayor, if that be the will of Londoners.

This has been an important debate, with varied and valuable contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House, save for the lamentable and empty arguments from the Opposition Front Bench. All other speeches approached the debate with great seriousness, genuine inquiry and—we believe, given what we are attempting to do—genuinely helpful criticism. The right hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman), the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), and the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) all brought to the debate not only their inimitable and individual styles, but a great wealth of experience in the governance of London over many years, and, as was clear from their speeches, a genuine, clear commitment to the interests of London and Londoners.

There have been a wide range of suggestions concerning the form that the authority should take, what it should do and how it should do it. Some proposals from hon. Members go further than others. All will be considered, as will the views of Londoners and London organisations. I do not want to pre-empt what will be a major and wide-ranging consultation exercise, but I assure hon. Members that their views will be taken into account when drafting our consultation paper.

The consultation paper will be based on the principles that we have already defined. The new authority—that is, the mayor and the assembly together—will provide strategic leadership. They will not take responsibility for the delivery of day-to-day services but will ensure effective public scrutiny of the publicly funded pan-London bodies. The new authority's structure will not only minimise opportunities for conflict, but actively encourage co-operation and partnership. The overall impact on public expenditure should be neutral with set-up costs paid for by subsequent savings in the short to medium term.

The new authority will be efficient and effective, with strong leadership able to get things done. We seek to create not the GLC mark II, much as some hon. Members might mourn that fact, but a new form of strategic local government, streamlined in structure, focused, strongly led and capable of continuing and continuous achievement. At the heart of our approach will be our commitment to good government and local decision-making. In establishing a new authority, our purpose is not merely to make better bureaucracies, beneficial though that would be, but to introduce the democratic voice of London, thus serving to reinvigorate local government and to clarify and facilitate the process of solving London-wide problems.

In my area of responsibility, the opportunities for improving the quality of public transport services and co-ordination between transport planners, providers and users are enormous. It is hard to believe, for example, that bus operators are not directly involved in the planning and implementation of bus lanes; that, however, is true. It is hard to believe that the work of the traffic control systems unit, which manages the vital traffic signals on all London roads, is based in the City of London, funded by the Government office for London and supervised by a management board with Highways Agency and borough representatives, but again it is true. Then there is the supposed co-ordination of the London lorry ban, of air quality information and of parking policies. I could go on, but time is short.

That is the legacy that we have inherited and are committed to tackling. We are making a start, but one of the new strategic authority's key priorities will be the development and implementation of a truly integrated London transport policy, for which the people of this great city have been asking for years and which this Government are committed to deliver.

Over the years, we have become used to the Conservative party arguing against a strategic authority for London. It invariably raises the spectre of additional costs and who will pay for them, conveniently ignoring the enormous potential for reducing costs for businesses, commuters, residents—in effect, London—from an integrated transport strategy that delivers better public transport and improved journey times.

Londoners understand that those benefits outweigh any costs associated with setting up and running a slimline strategic authority. It cannot be that the case is too complex for Opposition Front Benchers to comprehend. Therefore, the rejection of the facts is yet another example of the ideological time warp in which, like flies in amber, they are trapped.

Moreover, the new authority will have oversight of many public services. There will be economies of scale arising from better co-ordination and simplified bureaucratic structures. That will mean not less money for front-line services, but economic, efficient bureaucracy. We have made it clear that the cost of running the new authority will be met within existing public spending limits, as my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), in his fine contribution—as his contributions invariably are—eloquently detailed.

There have also been arguments that policy co-ordination in the capital is better done by central than by local government. The experience of Londoners over the past few years fails to support that line of argument. If everything is left to Ministers, London inevitably takes second place and the results are here for everyone to see. Londoners are best placed to run London. Elected Londoners will do it even better.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, who has responsibility for London, referred to the fact that a number of people, some strongly linked with the previous Government, are now so converted to the idea of a strategic authority that they are already making public statements to the effect that they propose to stand for mayor. We are greatly encouraged by that damascene conversion. Londoners will give their view through the ballot box.

I cannot agree with the argument that London can do without a mayor or an assembly. Our manifesto made it clear that we are offering Londoners a strategic authority made up of an elected assembly and an elected mayor. That is the proposition. That is what Londoners will be asked to vote on. It is as simple and straightforward as that.

The purpose of the office of mayor is to provide a single individual with whom the electorate can identify, and whom it can hold accountable. It will provide a human face for what might otherwise be yet another faceless bureaucracy. By having been elected, the mayor will have the clear support of the people of London in what he or she does. At all costs, we must avoid appointing leaders who come to power as a result of some secret deal in a smoky back room. The fact that the mayor will have been elected will add to his or her status rather than weaken it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) expressed concern on that subject in his own inimitable way. Concerns have been voiced that the establishment of a powerful mayor for London could lead to problems of corruption. Inevitably, to be effective, the mayor must be a powerful individual with a strong public mandate. However, the mayoralty will be matched by a powerful elected assembly to hold the office to public account.

We are committed to establishing a mayor and an assembly to work together for the good of London. We are also eager to establish a system of checks and balances to ensure that both are publicly accountable for all that they do.

The proposed GLA offers an opportunity for a new form of local government, and the many detailed contributions from both sides of the House on its structure, membership, size and composition, as well as on the means of election to it, show that the proposal has clearly not only stimulated consideration on the practicalities, but fired the imagination in presenting the prospect of the first London government of the 21st century.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), in his maiden speech, referred to county hall, to which many people have a strong attachment. However, a suitable location for a new authority and mayor must be carefully considered, and all options will be examined to ensure that London gets the best possible value for money.

As I have said, this has been an excellent debate in the main, not least because of the notable contributions made by hon. Members engaged in that most frightening of experiences, the delivery of one's maiden speech. My hon. Friends the Members for Romford (Mrs. Gordon), for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), for Putney (Mr. Colman) and for Ilford, North (Ms Perham) all made valuable and interesting contributions, as did the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey).

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) referred to the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), and I share his perplexity as to whether the word "maiden" can be considered an accurate definition of the right hon. Gentleman's contribution. I was tempted to add the word "aunt", to make the description "maiden aunt", but that sounded somewhat pejorative, so I shall leave it as it is and consider it afresh.

I want to stress the fact that, although the Government have mapped out the basic principles that will define the size, shape and role of the new authority, when we say that we shall consult extensively on the details, that is precisely and accurately what we mean. Many of today's contributions have helped to clarify the directions in which we should explore, and individual contributions are valuable bases on which to build in the future.

We are determined to establish a new authority that has the support of the people of London, is relevant to their needs and does not reflect sectional interests. We shall provide an elected assembly and an elected mayor to work together to tackle the problems facing the capital and to promote the city at home and abroad. Together, they will maintain London's leading position in the world and ensure its sustainable development into the next century. That is what we have promised to do, and that is what we shall do.

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.