HC Deb 19 January 1999 vol 323 cc715-28

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

3.53 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I would like to take a brief opportunity to set out the reasons for my opposition to the clause, which stem from my reservations about how the Bill itself—and, therefore, the clause—came about. The Bill is the result of the use of the technique of referendum. I believe that the referendum is a dubious means of arriving at complex political decisions.

The decision—which, on the face of it, looked seductively simple, as does the clause—must be one of the more complex that we have encountered not just in this Parliament, but for a long time. The relevant question, however, was put to the people of London in a referendum. That in itself was bad enough, because, as I have always contended, it is always difficult to reduce a complex political question legitimately to a simple proposition that requires a simple yes or no answer. In this case, the crime was compounded because the Government failed to put to the people of London a question that would distinguish their desire for, on the one hand, a mayor as a component of the Greater London Authority and, on the other, an assembly. The clause is based on a false premise, because an invalid question was put to the people of London, so the answer that they gave was also invalid.

I am glad to say that one of my hon. Friends has introduced a private Member's Bill that will give us an opportunity to consider the matter, but a serious question that we should already have considered about referendums as a mechanism for political decision making concerns the turnout. As we all know, pathetically few people were sufficiently engaged by the question to take the trouble to vote in the referendum in London.

I have heard Ministers claiming that there is "overwhelming" support for the proposition adumbrated in the clause, but we know that only about one in three Londoners were sufficiently overwhelmed to bother to vote. If we are to have such abuse of the technique of referendum, we should quickly have a long-overdue look at the way in which the referendum is used as a mechanism for political decision making. I hope that we will not be further subjected to the claim that the people of London came flocking to endorse the proposition, because that is nonsense and will be seen as such.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the referendum was held on the same day as the London borough elections and that the turnout on that day was lower than in previous London borough elections?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend makes a very fair point, which allows me to say, strictly in passing, that I am proud of the fact that my borough had the lowest yes vote of any borough in Greater London.

The clause encapsulates the basis of the whole Bill, which is extremely undesirable because it imposes a whole new layer of bureaucracy on the people of London. It has been said, and it will no doubt be said again as we continue our discussions, that the mayor and assembly will somehow be a benefit to the people of London. I have been in the political business long enough to be dubious about the proposition that the more layers of bureaucrats we have, the greater is the benefit to the people; but that is what is being argued.

We will have to spend a long time considering in detail the proposition that more bureaucrats and politicians will bring greater benefits to the people of London. Londoners already have elected borough councillors, Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament, all beavering away to give effect to their wishes and desires. Now they will have an elected mayor and assembly members.

I will not go into detail about the cost of the bureaucracy, buildings, salaries, expenses, special assistants and all the other nonsense, to say nothing of the travelling this and living that—I suspect that we may return to all that at greater length later—because the real point is not only the undesirability in principle of more politicians and bureaucrats, but the conflicts that will inevitably arise among all the different elected representatives of the people of London.

Conflicts are bound to develop as the powers of the mayor and the assembly develop, inevitably at the expense of the boroughs. I hope that that problem will come out as we consider the Bill, although I do not know how we are to resolve it, because if we agree to the clause, all the nonsenses in the other 250-odd clauses will follow as night follows day.

Ministers must give the Committee some idea of how the Bill will work to the benefit of the people of London, those for whom we are supposed to be legislating, when it contains a prescription for continuing and growing conflict at every level in the making and implementation of policy between the people elected, supposedly, to represent the people of London.

4 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I shall intervene on the right hon. Gentleman only once. How does he explain the logic of his position, unless he is arguing that it is better to keep the status quo under which Parliament and the Government of the whole country—irrespective of their majority in London—make decisions for London rather than those decisions being made by people chosen by Londoners, who may be argued to have a more local interest?

Is not the logic of what the right hon. Gentleman says that there should be only one Government in Britain at all levels of decision making? Yet, everywhere else in Britain there are tiers of government. He used to represent a constituency in Worcestershire where there are parish, district and county councils. In Scotland, there are other tiers of government. Is he arguing that we should have only one tier of elected representatives for all the United Kingdom?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman tempts me, but the direct answer is no, although I would disagree vehemently with holding up the administration of our counties as some sort of model. The hon. Gentleman's question is perfectly valid, but I challenge his assumption that London is a political entity that merits the sort of representation that the Bill will impose on it. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman because I am comfortable with the status quo, as I believe that the boroughs legitimately represent the peoples of London in all their diversity. I am glad to see in the Chamber my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), who shares the borough of Bromley with me.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)

And me.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) shares it too—the borough of Bromley is fully represented in the Chamber. One reason why the good folk of Bromley were the least enthusiastic about the Bill is that they feel absolutely no commonality of interest with people not just in central London, but with the people in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) and for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). I say nothing detrimental about those constituencies or their boroughs, but my hon. Friends may agree that the common interests that the people of those area share with Bromley are, to say the least, minimal.

The core of the difficulty with the Bill is that it seeks to treat the length, breadth, might and greatness of London as if the capital were one simple-minded political entity that can be legitimately represented by an assembly. I challenge that assumption; it was wrong from the start. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) posed a legitimate question, but I am content with the status quo, and I believe that added bureaucracy will be unnecessary and costly, and will give rise to conflicts that could damage the interests of Londoners in all their diversity. Let me put it beyond all doubt that I am totally against clause 1, which is misconceived and wrongly based, and which will damage the people of London.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Committee stage begins a long process that will pass from the full light of the Chamber to the slightly less full light of the Committee Rooms upstairs, where the hours will be longer and the labours no less hard. The Liberal Democrats support clause 1, but I wish to raise one matter arising from what the Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions said on Second Reading when we explored the nature of the beast to come.

As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has clearly grasped, clause 1 sets up sets up the authority, with the words: There shall be an authority for Greater London". On 14 December, I sought to get out of the Secretary of State whether that authority was equivalent to regional government. It had started off being described as such, but then it became city government and local government. I thought that the issue was worth pursuing and the right hon. Gentleman's answer is worth repeating. He said: It is in between, in a way".—[Official Report, 14 December 1998; Vol. 322, c. 624.] That comment lends itself to further exploration.

One could argue validly, as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has done, that Greater London is not an entity and should not have countywide or citywide government. However, some of us have accepted that the development of metropolitan London with a green belt around it, makes Greater London a natural, large metropolitan community. One sees that that is the case when one flies into London.

Obviously, there is a greater south-east region. However, if the Government are committed to regional government, as the Secretary of State and Ministers say that they are, what is the region for which they envisage that we will get such government as it affects London? If it is to be Greater London—some people may not like that—and we are to have a London development agency, which is meant to be the embryo for regional government, as are such agencies in the rest of the country, why are we not to have regional government? It could be developed later and its powers could be varied, but why can we not say honestly and openly now, "This is regional government"?

Of course, London is different from other regions, such as the west midlands, which is not one place—Birmingham is represented by one authority, Coventry is next door and so forth. London is one place, but it is a city state-type region. Many capital cities have their own governments, for example, Washington and Canberra. They are a sort of variation on a theme—another tier of government above local government.

I hope that the Minister will tell us that London is to be the region that the Government will recognise for regional government purposes and that we are committed to having such government. It is a serious matter and his colleagues on the Labour Benches will be interested to hear the answer. We Liberal Democrats would support that idea. If that is to be the case, why not say so now? Why not say that the assembly is the embryo—the starting point of the Greater London regional authority, which will provide London with regional government—and get on with the job?

Finally, if that is the case, I accept that how one combines citywide and regional government is an issue. I will not argue that London should be parallel with and similar to the other English regions. I do not think that it should be for reasons that are self-evident. My hon. Friends and I are clear that Greater London requires government to be delivered by an authority above borough level. We disagree with the views expressed by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and we associate ourselves with those expressed by the great majority of, Londoners.

Mr. Forth

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hughes

The right hon. Gentleman suggests that the view in favour is not held by the great majority, but all the opinion polls show that the great majority of Londoners want a democratic regional tier of government to be re-established. They would prefer elected representatives to make decisions about their city rather than civil servants. On that basis, we believe that we must start by saying that we will have a greater regional authority.

Mr. Forth

I regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman continues to peddle that nonsense. If Londoners support that idea, as he claims, why did they not bother to turn out and cast a vote when given the opportunity to do so in the referendum? It is one thing to ask questions in an opinion poll and, if we are to run the country by opinion polls, I will offer the deal that I always offer on such occasions to any colleague: can we have a binding poll on the return of capital punishment? If the hon. Gentleman intends to rest his case on that argument, I have no doubt that he will sign up wholeheartedly to such a poll.

Mr. Hughes

I will not be distracted by an opinion poll on capital punishment, except to say that there are differences between the way in which one settles constitutional and ethical issues—they are always entirely different.

I would argue—as a Scot, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst should understand this—that it is just as much the settled will of the people of Greater London that there should be Londonwide democratic government as it is the settled will of the people of Scotland that there should be a Parliament in Scotland. Since the Greater London council was abolished, whatever the criticisms of the GLC era—or, in smaller boundaries, of the London county council before that—whenever asked, most of the people of London have said that they want such government. I have never seen an opinion poll that has not shown that. Of course, a majority of Londoners did not go to the polling booths for the local election day referendum, but Conservatives have often been elected in local elections with small votes on small turnouts of 20 or 30 per cent. The Government rightly want to increase turnout, as we do.

One reason why there was not a massive turnout was that it was obvious from opinion polling that there would be an overwhelming yes vote. With the best will in the world, I pay tribute to the Minister. The Secretary of State turned out to play football at Wembley—not a pretty sight but he was there. I made an effort in the campaign, appearing on buses with Ministers and others. There was even a song produced. It did not take off, but we tried to get some interest going. It was so obvious that people wanted London government back that many thought that they did not need to turn out. If it had been a needle match, the number of people voting would have risen.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst argued that there was not great enthusiasm in Bromley. That may be true; Bromley is a place of lesser enthusiasm than some parts of the country. Even in his borough, the majority of those who cast votes voted in favour. Even though he is in the borough of the lukewarm, the lukewarm were in favour of Greater London.

I hope that the Minister accepts that this is a probing debate about regional government, which we favour. Why cannot London have it, and have it this year?

Mr. John Horam (Orpington)

I rise to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). We have two concerns. First, as he rightly noted, we are on the outer fringe of London. The position is worse than he proclaimed, because my constituents in Orpington would rather be in Kent, as they were historically, than in Greater London. Sadly, they were moved by a Conservative Government.

The Minister for London and Construction (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

The hon. Gentleman was not a Conservative then.

Mr. Horam

That is as may be, but, happily, I opposed the creation of the GLC and was proved to be right because it was later abolished by a Conservative Government.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, we are concerned about the level of bureaucracy. While I admit that the representatives will be democratically elected, there will be more councillors, more bodies and all the spin-offs that will flow from that fact. It is a retrograde step, and typical of the Government, both in respect of London and of the proposals for devolution, that they have come up with dense, complicated and expensive conclusions and proposals.

Equally, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, it is fair to say that there was strong support for a voice for London. All opinion polls suggested that people were sorry that at various times, such as when bidding for the Olympic games, there was not a person or body to stand up and support a case for London in the wider scheme of things. That is one reason why people supported a new voice for London when it was put to them in the referendum in the whole Greater London area, although they did not vote for the re-creation of the old Greater London authority.

There was a way through the dilemma. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey would agree that in a sense, the case for a voice for London is an inner London case that is at its strongest in the sort of area that he represents, where there are genuine problems with education, health, transport and living standards that should be tackled on a broader basis than is possible under the arrangements that were created long ago by a Conservative Government.

4.15 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is quite right: I accept that the further out one goes, the more one sees that areas, such as the one he represents, that historically have belonged to the counties of Surrey and Kent feel less a part of Greater London. When the Committee considers voting systems, some of us will argue that we should try to group areas together in natural communities, because the people of Kent in London have a view that naturally differs from that of the people of Surrey in London.

Mr. Horam

The hon. Gentleman has anticipated my point. There is a solution to the problem which is much simpler than the one the Government have proposed: it is to group together some of the inner London boroughs, perhaps in a new borough—a single borough, without two or three tiers—covering Westminster, Kensington, parts of Southwark and Lambeth and so on. It would be a central London borough similar to what is found in Paris, where there is a Paris municipal authority covering not the whole of Paris as we know it, but an area that is roughly enclosed by the peripherique and which is but a small part of the total urban area of Paris. That municipal authority deals successfully with the problems of central Paris; similarly, with no extra councillors—indeed, with a reduction in the number of local authorities, because several would have been combined into one—we could have a body that could speak for London and deal with the problems of inner London.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

I speak as a former leader of Croydon council. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the strategic issues of the environment, the economy and an integrated transport system for London must embrace outer London as well as inner London? The idea of having a separately defined inner London is obviously ridiculous.

Mr. Horam

The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me, because, as has already been said, the issues to which he refers go well beyond the boundaries of Greater London. About 17,000 people a day commute into the city from my constituency, and many pass through Orpington as they come from Sevenoaks and beyond, so it is clear that we have to consider an area greater than that which will be covered by the Greater London authority. That is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), a former Conservative Secretary of State for the Environment, described as a geographical question, involving geographical balance.

Some issues affecting London go far wider than the Greater London authority area—for example, transport issues affecting road and rail networks go right to the coast—whereas questions of health and education are far narrower, with inner London issues differing from those of Bromley, Uxbridge and so on. The Government have had to solve that problem. Sadly, they have not come up with a simple effective solution, but one that is overcomplicated, over-expensive and messy.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

The one undisputed fact is that, in the referendum, the majority either said no, or expressed no opinion. That cannot be ignored.

Mr. Geraint Davies

Is it not true that, under the previous Administration, in ballots on whether schools should opt out, the Conservatives had a rule that a vote not cast was a yes vote? Using that method, there was an overwhelming majority in favour of having a Greater London authority.

Mr. Ottaway

I have absolutely no idea whether the hon. Gentleman is right or wrong on that point.

One of the interesting features of having taken all the stages of the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill on the Floor of the House, and of having had the referendum since then, is that, now that we have reached the debate on the real thing, many of the arguments—those on the fundamental principles—already feel rather well rehearsed. Although a huge amount of the detail in the Bill before us will be debated upstairs in Standing Committee, certain key facts have emerged.

First, it has now been accepted by the Conservative party and by the Government that the Conservatives were right to abolish the Greater London council. We make no apology for having done so: it was in our 1983 manifesto. The current Government, in their determination not to return to the bad old ways of the GLC, have belatedly recognised that we were right and that Labour's opposition at the time was misconceived. The Government have added that to the long list of matters on which they have changed their mind. As John Maynard Keynes, whose views appear to be gaining ascendancy in the Labour party, said: When the circumstances change, my opinion changes. Many good reasons have been given for abolishing the GLC: it was bloated, over-bureaucratic, inefficient, incompetent and used as a regional power base for party politics. Its management of London's transport was so hopeless that we had to take that power away from the GLC. Its leaders called for the abolition of the monarchy and its hostility to business was an embarrassment.

Mr. Davies

If the hon. Gentleman's statement that abolition of the GLC was in the Conservative manifesto is found to be incorrect—I believe that it was not a manifesto commitment—will he make a formal apology for misleading the Committee?

Mr. Ottaway

If I am not correct, I shall withdraw my remark—that goes without saying.

It was no surprise that London's economy took off shortly after the abolition of the GLC, and has been sustained ever since. However, with hindsight, there is possibly another reason why abolishing the GLC was the right thing to do.

London is a city of villages. All of its boroughs have a different complexion. Historic Greenwich, with its cultural centres, is very different from the Manhattan skyline of Croydon, with its focus on the business community. Both areas have their problems—deprivation, unemployment and poor services—but each has its strong points, and its own identity and approach. That local identity is represented by the boroughs.

In place of the GLC, the London boroughs, as unitary authorities, have been strengthened. In all honesty, some boroughs are better run than others. However, there is no doubt that every borough is run better than it was run under the old GLC regime. The reason is clear: each borough has its own notion of its community's aims and objectives. The parameters for councillors and officers are clearly defined: it is their patch and they know how to get on with it.

That is why London is the greatest city on earth. One could not find another city that has such a rich heritage and so wide a variety of cultures. One could not hope to find another capital that is so full of good humour, civilisation and energy. London is an economic powerhouse, an artistic showcase and, above all, an incredibly creative, tolerant and free-spirited town in which to live.

The Conservatives are the first to recognise that the world has moved on since 1986. It is a fast-moving, media-driven world and we are the first to acknowledge that we have developed our view about the need for co-ordination in London. However, we believe in a much lighter touch than do the Government or the Liberal Democrats, who take an even more heavy-handed approach. On Second Reading, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), described our vision for London as "thin gruel". Despite the way in which he made that remark, I suggest that there is nothing wrong with thin gruel—indeed, the hon. Gentleman will find it on the menu of most breakfast emporiums because it is healthy.

We believe that our approach and our vision for London, involving a lighter touch and the mayor co-ordinating the London boroughs, is far more in tune with what London needs. To that extent, the ultimate challenge for the mayor will lie in his ability to co-ordinate the London boroughs. That relationship with the London boroughs is our greatest concern, and it is a factor that we shall address in subsequent amendments. We believe in an authority in which the mayor is able to input London's needs at Cabinet level and to sell London internationally. However, we are concerned that the mayor is not being given any real freedom to manoeuvre.

The Secretary of State retains ultimate powers of override in every key area. The all-embracing power of clause 27 allows the Secretary of State to prevent the mayor from doing anything he wants. A complete straitjacket of reserve powers governs policy and action. Another major concern is that the mayor and his office will set up a ministerial rather than a local government model. The mayor will not have to disclose the material that is used to brief him when making decisions, nor will he have to give evidence to the assembly.

The mayor will have great patronage through his appointment to various functional bodies and sway over planning and development issues. However, his decisions will not necessarily be debated in public, be open to scrutiny or subject to clear, open and independent financial and legal advice as would occur under the normal local government regime that every council operates. None the less, we support the principle of the mayor, and it logically follows that we support the principle of an authority. We have many suggestions to make about the conduct of the authority and the way in which that can be approved. However, so that the debate can develop we accept that the clause should stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Raynsford

The purpose of the clause is simple and straightforward: it establishes the Greater London authority and, in doing so, rectifies an historic injustice done to London in 1986.

The Bill restores a democratic, citywide government to London, so the people of London will once again be able to elect their own authority—their mayor and their assembly—to represent them. They will no longer be dependent on the wishes of Cabinet Ministers, shadowy quangos, joint boards and other unaccountable bodies, which, for the past 13 years, have ultimately made the key decisions about the future of our capital city.

The Bill also provides for the authority to have the functions that are transferred to, conferred on or imposed on the authority by this Bill or any other.

The Government were elected on a promise to create a new authority for London. We set out our proposals on how we would honour that promise in our White Paper in March last year. We submitted that White Paper to the people of London in a referendum last May and they voted yes by a majority of 72 per cent. The Bill gives effect to the proposals set out in the White Paper endorsed by the people of London.

Some hon. Members have revealed that they still hanker after life in the past. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) clearly does not want to believe what has happened in 1997 and 1998. I know that it is painful for him, but the world moves on. He is no longer part of a large majority on the Government Benches; he is in opposition. The people of London voted overwhelmingly for Labour Members in the 1997 general election.

Mr. Forth

No they didn't.

Mr. Raynsford

They did. They voted for 57 Labour Members and only 11 Conservatives in 1997. That was a decisive victory for the Labour party.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

Does the Minister recall that, a year after the abolition of the Greater London council, 57 Conservative Members were returned in London?

Mr. Raynsford

The hon. Gentleman could not have made my case better. It is a measure of how the people of London have changed their view about who should represent them in Parliament that we now have an overwhelming majority of Labour Members. The fact that the people of London are keen to have their own citywide authority again is demonstrated by the fact that such a large majority of them voted in the referendum in Bromley, in Hillingdon and in every other London borough. Whatever the wishes of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, his electors gave a majority vote to our proposals.

Listening to the right hon. Gentleman, I felt sympathetic to his proposition that there should be fewer politicians. We are giving effect to that. We are creating a small, streamlined authority consisting of a mayor and 25 assembly members for a city of 7 million people. One will not find a more streamlined, cost-effective, democratic assembly anywhere in the world. This is a model of non-bureaucratic administration.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the Minister for his sympathy, which I shall cherish for a long time to come. How can he argue that there will be fewer politicians in London as a result of the Bill? Fewer than how many? Today, we know how many politicians are being carried on our shoulders and are spending our taxes. Surely the Minister must accept that if the measure is passed, there will be more politicians and bureaucrats in London. How can he conclude otherwise?

Mr. Raynsford

The right hon. Gentleman obviously cannot remember the size of the GLC, which he so disliked. We are proposing an authority that is approximately a quarter of the size of the GLC. As I have stressed to him, this will be the smallest, most streamlined authority of any major city in the world. It will be an example of good, efficient administration, not a bureaucratic organisation.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has gone back over ground that we covered on Second Reading. He would like to use the term "regional" to describe the body that we are creating, but that is not appropriate. As the capital city of our country, London is unique and it requires a unique solution. It is going to have a unique solution—a citywide authority. Regions outside London will require their own model. The hon. Gentleman recognised that there was a difference between the kind of pattern appropriate in a densely occupied city with a large population and that which applies in other regions which are a mixture of rural and urban areas.

4.30 pm

The Government are committed to moving towards directly elected regional government, where there is popular support for it. The creation of voluntary regional chambers in the regions outside London is a first step in that direction, but the proposals in the Bill are not intended to be a template for regional patterns of government elsewhere. They are intended to meet the specific needs of London for effective government in London.

We are trying to respond to the needs of London. The legislation sets out a new form of governance which recognises the need for a strategic overview in the design and implementation of policies which will affect the lives of more than 7 million people. It will be a Greater London authority, not a regional authority.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I was originally going to intervene on the Minister to say that in the Chamber there is no better example of moving on than the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who started life as a young communist and has ended up as a right-wing Tory. The right hon. Gentleman should know about moving on.

I understand what the Minister is saying. My colleagues and I do not dissent from the view that London is entirely different because it is a metropolitan area and a capital city. I am trying to discover where the Government are putting it in the scheme of English constitutional reform. Does the fact that London is different mean that there will not be regional government for London in addition to the citywide government being created by the Bill? If we are to have a unique form of government, the Government should be honest and say as much, and not introduce all the accoutrements of local government such as the local government boundary commission and local government rules. Let us call it citywide government or unique citywide Londonwide government; let us rejoice in its uniqueness and capital city pre-eminence, but please do not let us call it local government when it is really no such thing.

Mr. Raynsford

The hon. Gentleman is tilting at windmills. We have not called it local government. He heard me say that we are proposing a unique form of governance for a unique city. We are creating a new form of citywide government for our capital city. I hope that we have agreement on that. I shall not be tempted into a discussion of the ramifications of regional government because that would take a long time and take us far from the matters in hand—

Mr. Hughes

It is because the Minister has no ideas.

Mr. Raynsford

I do indeed have all sorts of ideas, but I shall not debate them with the hon. Gentleman this afternoon.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I have just been to check on this contentious issue with the Library, and I think that I might be able to enlighten the Committee. The Library assures me that London is one of the nine regions in England designated under NUTS—a very appropriate expression. NUTS stands for the nomenclature of units of territorial statistics, as designated by—guess who?—our old friend the European Union. In order to organise us to suit its affairs, the EU has designated the United Kingdom as comprising 12 regions—Scotland, Wales, Ireland, London and eight others—so London is a region. Basically, all this is done at the insistence of the EU. London and the rest of us are being slotted in according to the EU' s designation, but the fact remains that London is a region.

Mr. Raynsford

Hearing the hon. Lady talking about NUTS tempts me to go way beyond the subject in hand. I assure her that we are setting in place a system of citywide government for London which is, for certain purposes, treated as a region. However, unlike any other region in the United Kingdom, it is a uniquely urban area. It is not the mixture of urban and rural areas covering a much larger geographical area, which is the characteristic of the other regions. The hon. Lady will accept that there are differences.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) seemed to hark back not just to 1986, when the GLC was abolished, but to 1888 when the London county council was established. He seemed to be arguing the case for an inner London authority, but not an authority covering the rest of London. I have to tell him that the world has moved on a great deal since 1888. He also raised the interesting question of whether there should be a new constituency. I am happy to be able to tell the Committee that the Government have accepted the recommendations of the Local Government Commission on the constituencies that will be adopted for the Greater London assembly elections. Those constituencies—14 in total—will be as recommended by the commission. There will, therefore, be new constituencies, and members of the assembly will be elected in part from those constituencies. The other 11 members will be elected from the lists. We shall discuss that subject in later debates.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), speaking as official spokesman for the Opposition, once again had difficulty with the referendum. Whatever conclusions he draws about how people who did not vote might have voted, in this country, we treat election results on the basis of those people who voted, and of those people who voted, 72 per cent. voted in favour of our proposition. By any count, that was a large and decisive majority. I make no apology whatever for repeating the fact that we are acting on the basis of the support of the people of London.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South made no apology for the abolition of the Greater London council. That is curious because, whereas our position is strongly endorsed by the people of London, the former Conservative Government abolished the GLC in the face of the obvious overwhelming hostility of the people of London, who wanted their own democratic citywide authority. That Government left London, alone of all major cities in the world, with no one to speak for it— with no one representing its interests in the United Kingdom or overseas. That situation is a problem, which we are now remedying.

Mr. Ottaway

But the Minister will recognise that, in his Green Paper, "New Leadership for London", he says: This is not an exercise in bringing back the Greater London Council".

Mr. Raynsford

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman. We know that the world moves on, and we are devising new models, appropriate to our period. That does not mean that we believe that the previous Government were right to abolish the GLC; it was a mistake. It was an affront to democracy in London, and we are remedying that, but we are devising a new model of governance appropriate for the 21st century instead of harking back—as the hon. Member for Orpington does—to models of governance created in the 19th century.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South spoke about limitations on the mayor's powers. He dug up some hoary old chestnuts about clause 27. Before we reach that clause, I should tell him that it is part of a slice of the Bill that relates to the mayor's overall powers. It follows clause 25, which gives the mayor wide-ranging powers. Clause 27 contains limitations specifically to protect the interests of London boroughs. Everything that the hon. Gentleman and the Conservative party have said suggests to me that they support the London boroughs, and would not want the mayor to have powers to do things that the London boroughs are expressly charged with doing. That is the purpose of clause 27, and anyone who reads it carefully—as critics who have accused us of unreasonably limiting the mayor's power should—will see that the mayor's powers are extensive, but that they are limited in respect of specific functions which should be discharged either by the boroughs or by other authorities. The aim is to avoid duplication.

I also put it to the hon. Member for Croydon, South—he will find this an uncomfortable fact, which we shall hear more often in these debates—that the argument about our limiting the mayor's power is pretty rich coming from the Conservatives. When, in 1962, the Conservative party—the hon. Gentleman was probably a member of that party at the time, unlike the hon. Member for Orpington—introduced the Bill that became the London Government Act 1963, which created the Greater London council, it contained 94 clauses, so it was about a third of the length of the Bill before us, but it contained 140 references to the powers of the Secretary of State and Ministers to control that authority. That is even more references than there are in our Bill. The record of that Government will be exposed if ever the hon. Member for Croydon, South or his colleagues try to accuse us of unreasonably restricting the power of the Greater London authority.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, because we are on the first clause of a long furrow. I am in an especially strong position to know that, in 1962, the Minister was a Minister, not a Secretary of State. Unintentionally, the Minister has misled the Committee.

Mr. Raynsford

I hope that I made it clear that the 140 references were to powers available to Ministers and Secretaries of State. There were 123 references to the powers of the Minister and 17 to the powers of the Secretary of State. We have done our research carefully. The relevant Minister was a Minister, and he made a very interesting point, on which the right hon. Gentleman may want to ponder. In response to Opposition criticism of reserve powers, the Minister said: My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has reserve powers, but, like reserve powers in other fields, they are for use only in the last resort."—[Official Report, 10 December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 54.] That argument played well in 1962. We shall see how it plays in 1999.

Clause 1 gives effect to a manifesto commitment. It creates the Greater London authority. It is short, simple and straightforward. It is hugely important for the people of London, and I commend it to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Back to
Forward to