I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Government were elected on a promise to modernise the way in which Britain is governed. We promised to make our politics more open, more accountable and more inclusive, and relevant to the 21st century. We are delivering on that promise. We have devolved power to Scotland and to Wales. We are putting in place new agencies to deliver real economic development in our regions. We have started on putting local government back in touch with the people whom it serves. Later in the Session, we shall at long last start to remove the hereditary principle from our system of governance.
The Bill before us is an integral part of that programme of reform. It is about modernising the government of the capital, and about giving power to the people of London, stripping away the shadowy committees, burgeoning bureaucracies and quangos created by our predecessor. London has world-beating financial and business services sectors, innovative and exciting arts, culture and entertainment industries, and a business climate that makes it the natural place for foreign investors. The capital has an ethnic diversity and tolerance that is the envy of other major cities, and a commitment to stamping out racism and promoting real equality. In short, it is a world-class city.
However, behind that success lie deep-rooted problems. As well as all the wealth, there is grinding poverty and social exclusion. Two thirds of the most deprived housing estates in England are in London.
Across the capital, London's creaking transport infrastructure bears witness to a decade or more of neglect. London's streets are increasingly congested, its air polluted. There is a gap between the experience of racially motivated crimes and their recording by the police. Those problems need to be tackled.
It is fundamentally wrong, and frankly inefficient, to provide no coherent form of government for a city of 7 million people. That is why we made a manifesto commitment to create a new mayor and assembly for London, directly elected by and accountable to the people of London. That is why, in every borough, people voted overwhelmingly in favour of our proposals. That is what this Bill delivers.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way at that point. Since this subject may come up again and again in the debate, may we get straight at this point the degree of support that the people of London gave the proposal? The right hon. Gentleman used the term "overwhelming". Will he confirm that one in three Londoners bothered to vote in the referendum and, of those, not even three quarters voted yes? Please will he withdraw the term "overwhelming", and ask his hon. Friends not to use it in the debate?
Well, more than 30 per cent. of Londoners participated in the vote, and more than 70 per cent. of them agreed with our proposal. That appears to be a rather overwhelming majority in favour of the proposal. The previous Government survived for 18 years, and were certainly in power, with less than a majority of the votes, which did not seem to trouble them then. Frankly, it is a bit much for the party that abolished the Greater London council without any consultation to lecture us today about the principle of democratic accountability.
Like the Secretary of State, we agree that the overwhelming view of Londoners is that there should be democratic government for London. Will the right hon. Gentleman answer one simple question? Will the proposal in the Bill be the first of England's regional governments, or merely another form of local government?
It is in between, in a way—[Laughter] Perhaps I can justify my point. The proposed authority is not similar to any local government authority as we know it. It will be a new type of city government, with a city executive and an elected mayor. There are no other examples of that in this country. Therefore, it is fair to say that it not the normal local government structure. Nor is it the regional structure, although, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I am an advocate of regional government.
A body that governs 7 million inhabitants will clearly have strategic and regional features, but we are discussing a city government with an elected mayor, which one would not normally expect a regional authority to have—not according to my concept of regional government. There are clear distinctions. This will be a new type of city government.
That answer is helpful. Having created that form of government for London, would it need to be changed to make it the sort of regional government to which the Labour party and the right hon. Gentleman have been committed? Will it be the first of a series of similar types of regional governments, or would there need to be further changes to enable London to have a regional government, which was a commitment in the Labour manifesto?
I have no doubt that reform will continue. As the Prime Minister reminds us constantly, change, change, change is always on the agenda. This is the part of the process that deals with an important capital city. London is the only capital city that does not have a government or an elected chief executive or mayor. We are attempting to correct that. The people of London showed in the referendum that that is precisely what they want.
Hopefully, the next stage of devolution might be regional government, which I certainly want. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, embarking on that course of action would involve much consultation with many local authorities, which have different views on what the next stage of local or regional government should be. That will not be happening this side of a general election, although I declare my interest in the process.
There will be a new type of city government—indeed, a new style of politics for London. There will be a directly elected mayor, to provide leadership, and a 25-member assembly to scrutinise the mayor's work, approve his budget and ensure full accountability to the people of London, working with all of London—business, the boroughs and the voluntary sector—and delivering integrated solutions.
The structures that we are about to put in place will create the climate for a truly inclusive form of city governance: fair electoral systems, a duty to consult, a more democratic police authority, obligations to work in partnership with other public bodies, and a regular dialogue with interest groups.
We will create two new bodies dedicated to tackling transport and economic development in the capital, appointed by, and accountable to, the mayor. The London development agency will advise the mayor, and implement the mayor's economic development strategy. The mayor will have a general duty to consult business and other interests. Secondly, the transport for London body will be responsible for implementing the mayor's integrated transport policy for the capital.
As part of a radical, ground-breaking financial agreement, local authorities that introduce pilot road-user and workplace charging schemes will retain 100 per cent. of the net revenue for at least 10 years. The money can be spent only on transport projects in the London transport strategy. There will be a review of this after 10 years.
We will create a new, accountable police authority, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will say more about tomorrow. We will create a new publicly owned and accountable underground system, through a public-private partnership.
I turn now to the Bill's more detailed provisions. Part I deals with the creation of the authority, and the elections. The mayor will be elected by the supplementary vote system, which will provide a clear mandate from the people of London. The 25-member assembly will be elected by the additional member system, so the views of Londoners will be closely reflected in its political make-up.
For the benefit of hon. Members, and of Londoners as a whole, can the right hon. Gentleman explain exactly how, under the formula, votes will be apportioned between candidates on the list—not the directly elected members? How does the formula work?
Fourteen members will be directly elected for the 14 areas concerned, the boundaries of which will be considered.
I am trying to put the matter in context. Eleven members will be elected on the basis of people's votes for a party. A party that gets 50 per cent. of the votes in that section will get 50 per cent. of the 11 members on the additional list.
I should have chosen my percentages better, but my secondary modern education did not go quite that far. The same principles will apply in Scotland and Wales, which will give us some understanding of what is likely to happen when we debate the Bill in Committee. The mayor will be elected by the supplementary vote.
On the method chosen for electing the mayor, it would be possible to elect one who did not have majority support. With voting in two separate columns, the only votes that will be counted on the second count will be those of people who have voted for one of the two main candidates. Would it not be simpler to use a system that my right hon. Friend and I are both used to in the Labour party? An eliminating ballot would guarantee that the mayor would be elected with the majority of votes.
I well understand my hon. Friend's point, particularly with reference to the Labour party. It usually meant that the person who started with the fewest votes, and who was the most unpopular candidate, eventually came through; it was sometimes my hon. Friend. We have made a judgment, and chosen this system. That means that the mayor will get an overwhelming vote. It is important to have a mayor with a majority of support in London. That is why we have used the supplementary vote in this way.
The method also means that only two counts will take place—the main count and the additional one for distributing the supplementary votes between the top two candidates. I think that that is the fairest way. No doubt points will be made about that, but that is the formula we put in the referendum, and the Bill implements what we agreed in that.
I take this opportunity to confirm the date of the first elections to the authority: subject to passage of the Bill, the elections will take place on 4 May 2000. As hon. Members will know, that is the normal date for local elections, so we think it right to hold them on that day. In less than 18 months, the mayor and the assembly will be elected to give London the strong leadership and democratic accountability it so desperately needs.
The assembly will represent the views of all Londoners. However, we are aware that that very openness and accessibility carry risks. Therefore, we are including in the Bill a provision enabling an electoral threshold to be set, so as to avoid the assembly giving a platform to extremist parties. However, a balance needs to be struck, because of the need to ensure that legitimate parties are not unfairly excluded from the political process. For that reason, we have set a maximum threshold of 5 per cent., and any threshold can be set only after debate in both Houses of Parliament.
Part II of the Bill covers general functions and procedures, and discharges an important manifesto commitment. We are creating a general purpose for the authority, which is to promote economic and social development in Greater London and the improvement of its environment. The mayor will not be able to use that power to extend the GLA's role into borough activities; nor will it extend the authority's remit into the management of health services or further education, as suggested by the Liberal Democrats.
The GLA will be a lean and strategic authority—one whose powers and responsibilities were clearly set out and approved in the referendum in May. The Government will maintain a reserve power to set financial limits on the use of the power, to ensure that the new responsibility is not abused. We are giving the mayor real powers and real responsibilities. We do not intend to give the GLA the ability to extend its own powers by referendum. That is properly a matter for this House.
The new assembly will question the mayor monthly, in public; and ordinary Londoners will be able to question the mayor and assembly directly in open question times. The assembly's scrutiny role underlies all its work: it will be consulted on all strategies, and have the power to propose amendments; it will have the power to amend the mayor's budget; it will investigate issues of importance to all of London; and it will have the power to summon certain categories of witness, giving its scrutiny role real teeth.
The assembly, in its scrutiny role, can question the mayor, if he turns up to at least one of the six meetings to which he is called for questioning. It can send the mayor reports and make suggestions. However, is it not true that, at that level, the mayor is sufficiently powerful to be able to say, "Thank you and good night," and to go his own way, unless the power of the Secretary of State—the right hon. Gentleman and his successors—is so strong that the mayor could, if the Government of the day wanted, be totally strapped on any action, on financial grounds and on orders that the Secretary of State can impose?
When he has looked through the Bill and listened to the debates, the hon. Gentleman will see that the mayor has been given real powers, but that the assembly has an important checking power in respect of the budget, which will be the most important instrument of decision making for London. If two thirds of the members of the assembly agree that they disagree with the mayor's budget, they can change it. That is a fundamental role that even the Public Accounts Committee here in the House lacks.
We believe that a proper balance has been struck between the powers of the assembly and those of the elected mayor; however, the authority is new and entirely different from what has gone before, so we shall be grateful to hear the views of hon. Members as the Bill progresses.
We are referring substantial powers to the mayor and the assembly—powers that people have wanted for a long time. The Secretary of State's role in respect of new city government will be as it is in respect of local authorities: it will extend to the balance of powers and resources and to determining whether overall policy is achieved, which are matters proper to the balance between central and local government. The same is true of the relationship between central and regional government: central Government cannot afford to opt out of strategic decisions, so we reserve our rights in respect of such decisions. As the Bill shows, tremendous powers and resources are being given to the mayor and the assembly—billions of pounds will be under their immediate control.
Where does my right hon. Friend think the Greater London authority will meet? Newspapers carried the picture of the giant car light on its side near Tower bridge, which seemed pretty average to me. What does my right hon. Friend think about this matter?
My hon. Friends who have been dealing with the issue say that they have shortlisted two sites, and I must inform my hon. Friend that one of them is not Leyton.
Good. I am delighted to please another hon. Member.
The assembly's scrutiny role underlies most of the work to which we have referred, and it will be consulted about the strategies and powers of Bills.
The third part of the Bill involves finance—a crucial area in any relationship between central Government and local government. The GLA budget will be placed firmly within the existing financial framework for local authorities, as I have just said. The GLA will set budgets for itself, for the Transport for London body, the Metropolitan police authority, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, and the London development agency.
Two new Government grants will be established. The first is a new general grant to cover most of the annual costs of the mayor and assembly, estimated at about £20 million. London council tax payers will contribute approximately 20 per cent. of that sum—about 3p a week on a Band D council tax bill, raising approximately £4 million. That is a very small price to pay for giving London the strong directly elected Government it needs.
I give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way on that point. He said that the new authority will have the same financial control regime as local government generally. Does he accept that the Bill goes further in controlling the authority's ability to decide what it can and cannot do with its finances, by imposing not only spending ceilings but spending floors?
It is true that, in giving grants to this new type of city governance or to local authorities, the Government will want to see that money spent in particular areas. The situation in the London area is no different from that in any other local authority. As to the expenditure of resources over and above the limit, and capping, the authority will be required to meet the Government's financial rules governing public expenditure. The requirement is the same for local authorities. The institution may be different—
There are floors regarding what we expect the authority to spend in certain areas. That is a matter for negotiation with the London authority, as it is with local authorities. We may explore the details of differing levels of expenditure a little more in Committee. The essential relationship between central Government and the London authority is clear: it does not differ greatly from that between central Government and local government as far as the powers defined in the Bill and the raising of resources are concerned.
The second grant is a new GLA transport grant, which consolidates existing transport grants. There will be three key safeguards. First, the mayor must comply with statutory duties imposed upon him or her. Secondly, the mayor will be required to spend earmarked funds on the services for which they are given—which confirms that point that I made earlier to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). Thirdly, the Home Secretary will have a reserve power to set a minimum budget for the Metropolitan police, and powers to ensure that national standards of fire services are maintained. When moneys are given, we will make expenditure levels absolutely clear—particularly with regard to the Metropolitan police and fire services.
Part IV deals with transport, one of the key issues for London and Londoners. The mayor will provide integration of London's transport, ensuring that transport, environment and planning policies fit together. Borough councils manage much of the transport people use today, and they will continue to play a key role. However, they will do so within the context of an integrated transport strategy, and they will be required to draw up local plans to implement that strategy.
Transport for London is a new body that will be directly responsible to the mayor. It will help to implement the integrated transport strategy and deliver many key services. The mayor will appoint the members of its board—and perhaps its chair—and will have wide powers of direction over all its activities. Transport for London will take over London Transport's responsibilities for buses and the underground. It will take on responsibility for the Croydon tramlink, new piers and riverbus services, Victoria coach station and the docklands light railway. It will also regulate taxis and minicabs.
Transport for London will take on the management of traffic and road maintenance on London's strategic roads, which is currently the responsibility of the Highways Agency and London boroughs. It will take on the work of the traffic director for London, the traffic control systems unit and the Public Carriage Office.
I shall say a few words about the public-private partnership for the London Underground, which I announced to the House in March. London Transport has now consulted a cross-section of potential bidders, lenders and other transport interests. There was a very positive response, although the trade unions raised a number of concerns that London Transport will be addressing with them.
Further work has also been done to develop the details of the public-private partnership structure. As a result, London Transport will take the following step towards establishing a publicly owned and publicly accountable underground system: London Underground will be restructured during the first half of next year into an operating division, which will remain in the public sector, and three infrastructure divisions based on groupings of lines.
The aim will be to invite expressions of interest from potential infrastructure bidders early next year. I want the public-private partnership to be implemented as quickly as possible, so that passengers can begin to enjoy the real benefits that a modernised underground can bring, but I shall not rush that timetable.
In particular, I do not want to commit London Transport to a date by which the PPP must be completed. Negotiating against a self-imposed deadline would clearly compromise value for money. The Public Accounts Committee has warned against such an approach, to ensure that the taxpayer is protected. The previous Administration ignored such advice in their rush to privatise the railways and their assets, and we now know the full price for not taking due consideration of taxpayers' interests. We do not intend to repeat that mistake, or to have to go before the Public Accounts Committee to justify it.
It is difficult for me to know how the Committee came to that conclusion until I am aware of the results of its work. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) is here, and I am sorry that I did not give way to her earlier.
My right hon. Friend will be delighted to hear that that is all the Sub-Committee called his proposals, and I can assure him that its comment was based on precisely the sort of arguments that he is making now. Will he make it clear that any incoming local government will face the enormous problem of capital costs for the underground system? I hope that the authority will have sufficient flexibility to consider all sorts of partnerships, because, as he said, the Public Accounts Committee has pointed out that, as a result of the sale of the railways, he and I and the rest of the taxpayers ended up with the worst deal and the largest bill.
I should have said that another reason why we do not intend to repeat the mistakes of the previous Government is that we would have to appear before the Transport Sub-Committee, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, to explain why we had made such a mess of things. Her Committee has pointed out the mistakes of the previous Government, as has the Public Accounts Committee.
The previous Administration made fundamental mistakes on capital and revenue support, because they rushed the bridges. They wanted to keep to a political timetable, and all the evidence clearly shows that the public interest paid a heavy price. That is not to say that we disagree with the involvement of public-private partnerships in our proposals, but we shall not get involved in a privatisation process such as that undertaken by the previous Government. If we do not handle assets carefully, we will be properly indicted by bodies such as the Transport Sub-Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. I do not intend to allow that to happen.
Any agreement that is made with regard to assets must be scrutinised by the Committees, which will judge whether the final arrangements are convoluted or unjustified. I hope that I will not be condemned in such a way or have to face the wrath of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich in the Transport Sub-Committee, which spurs us on to ensure that we get things right. That is another reason why our solution will be determined not by a timetable but by the best value for the public.
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to confirm how the on-going costs of the public-private partnership will be paid? Do the Government expect that the on-going costs of the contract will be paid for out of congestion charges or parking levies that the mayor will impose?
That is not a judgment for me. It will be for the mayor to decide how he or she—[HON. MEMBERS: "She."] He or she will decide. The important issue is how the resources will be raised and then spent on transport. If there is a delay, the project will pass to the Transport for London body, make no mistake about that. However, the judgment as to how the finances are raised and then distributed among the various forms of transport in London will be for the mayor to make, in discussion with the Secretary of State, who has to consider transport plans for London as for every local authority. That provides the necessary checks and balances. As I said, I will not go ahead unless I am convinced that the bid represents the best value for money.
On the timetable, let me make it clear that, once the final bidding process is under way, the Government need to see it through. If, as now seems likely, the bidding process runs beyond the GLA elections in May 2000, we will put in place suitable arrangements to involve the mayor during that transitional period, following which London Underground would become the full responsibility of the mayor of London. We shall table appropriate amendments in due course to replace the regulation-making powers, so Parliament will have the proper opportunity to scrutinise as the Bill passes through the House.
A world-class city depends on a world-class transport system. We intend to deliver that.
The Bill has eight other parts. In view of the time necessary for today's debate, I shall not go into every detail of them, but shall refer to them briefly. We will create a new Metropolitan police authority, bringing democratic accountability to policing in London, and a new authority responsible for fire and emergency planning in the capital, inheriting staff, functions and powers from the current London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. As I have already said, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will deal with these provisions when he opens the debate tomorrow.
I shall briefly touch on parts V and VIII of the Bill, which deal with the London development agency and planning respectively. The London development agency will be in the regional development agency for London, mirroring the RDAs in other parts of the country, and bringing new opportunities where they are needed most, thereby increasing the possibility of jobs and prosperity in London. Business-led, it will advise the mayor, carry out the development functions delegated to it by central Government, and implement the mayor's economic development strategy. It will also tackle social and economic problems across the capital.
Under part VIII, the mayor's new strategic planning role will give the opportunity to provide a real vision for London. Boroughs will remain the planning authorities in their areas, but their development plans will have to conform to the mayor's strategy.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that those two parts of the Bill appear to involve a potential conflict of interest in terms of the mayor exercising his responsibilities? The mayor appoints the London development agency board and approves its strategy, but he also develops and approves a strategy for the spatial development of London. He can then require conformity with that, and also insist that local authorities refuse planning permission in accordance with it. Does that not lead to a conflict of interest? How is it to be resolved?
I do not think that there is a conflict of interest, but I look forward to the debates in which we can examine the matter in more detail. The mayor decides on the strategic plan—the plan for spatial development, as the hon. Gentleman says—which is agreed with the assembly. That carries with it democratic accountability, and the force and powers in the Bill to make sure that the boroughs comply with it.
If there is a dispute, as the hon. Gentleman suggests there may be, it will be referred back to me as Secretary of State. That is what happens in local authorities—there has to be a reserve appeal. If there is a conflict between the boroughs and the London authority, it is perhaps wise to have a reserve power residing with the Secretary of State, especially in planning matters.
Would not it help to remove the fear of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) and others, including myself, if the mayor did not have the power to direct a borough to refuse a planning application? Presumably the applicant will be able to appeal to the Secretary of State. As the Secretary of State can call in any significant planning application for public inquiry or his determination, why cannot the mayor's additional and unnecessary power be removed?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman agrees, but our planning procedures are not the most modern. In fact, many people are calling for changes to them. We are changing a great deal of the planning regulations. The new citywide body, which will have a planning function, will be very closely involved with development.
Is the hon. Member suggesting that we keep the old system, which was for ever bogged down in conflict between the boroughs? If we want a strategic approach, we must give the mayor and the assembly the responsibility to devise a strategic plan. That may create conflict, but we presume that the mayor will have the overriding right to impose a decision—although there will of course be a right to appeal to the Secretary of State.
I do not want to be involved in disputes at the first showing. I want to be able to measure the borough's decision against the strategic plan that has been agreed by the mayor and the assembly. That is the judgment, on balance, that I am making, although I will listen to arguments in Committee to find out how hon. Members feel.
I remain a touch confused. I thought that the most modern idea of planning was that it worked best if it was devised from the bottom up and was owned by the people to whom it related. That suggests that boroughs should feed to the mayor their views of the development they want in their areas. The mayor would then have to negotiate with the boroughs from the bottom up, rather than imposing decisions from the top down. Could the right hon. Gentleman enlighten me?
The strategic plan will be based on the boroughs' views, but somebody must make a strategic decision. It is very difficult to get all boroughs to agree, so a strategic plan will be drawn up. I have given the example of the Secretary of State's involvement where there is conflict. The GLA is a new citywide authority with an elected mayor. We will try to strike a balance. I am prepared, as I have said, to listen to arguments in Committee as they are developed. I am describing the balance that we have struck. The approach is modern and streamlined, which will meet the needs of London.
Parts IX and X, on culture and the environment, will deal with Londoners' quality of life. Culture contributes more to London's economy than any other sector, apart from finance. The Bill provides that, for the first time, a strategic approach will be taken to the development of one of the capital's most important assets. As important as Londoners' quality of life is that of the environment. The mayor will be required to prepare a periodic report on the environment of the capital, draw up an action plan to safeguard London's wildlife, and limit noise. The mayor will have powers to tackle waste, air quality and congestion.
In 1986, the Conservative party abolished the Greater London council, against the will of the people and without consultation or so much as a "by your leave". Since then, London has struggled on without leadership or accountability. It is governed by cliques and cabals, shadowy committees, background deals and quangos. Its infrastructure is decaying, traffic problems are worsening, and poverty and social exclusion are deepening. That is why our manifesto commitment was overwhelmingly endorsed both in the general election and the May referendum. This Bill will give Londoners back their voice.
In May, the people of London gave a resounding yes in the referendum. I hope that the House will say yes to Londoners. Londoners want world-class government for a world-class city. I hope that the House will overwhelmingly endorse the people's expressed will.
I beg to move, To leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
'this House, while welcoming the proposal for a directly elected mayor for Greater London, declines to give a second reading to the Greater London Authority Bill because, instead of creating an Assembly consisting of representatives nominated by each London borough and the Corporation of London, which would best serve London's interests, it provides for the establishment of a directly elected assembly which would diminish the status of the London boroughs and would be likely to lead to conflict between the boroughs and the Greater London Authority; and because, in failing to provide for the transfer of London Underground to the private sector so as to boost investment and in proposing the imposition of new taxes on motorists in London to pay for cuts in central government spending, the Bill offers an inadequate response to the problems of transport in London.'
May I begin by apologising to the House for the fact that, owing to a very long-standing engagement, I shall be unable to be present for the winding-up speeches? I have written to the Deputy Prime Minister and regret any discourtesy to him, his hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London and the House. Tomorrow, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) will deal with the aspects of the Bill that concern the policing of London, and its constitutional aspects.
The Bill is a very substantial piece of legislation—twice the size of the Bills that became the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 combined—and in effect, as the Secretary of State admitted this afternoon, it will set up a new form of government. It is essentially an experiment, and we have deep concerns about it. Those concerns are expressed in our reasoned amendment, and this evening I intend to outline other areas of concern, which we shall seek to explore and expose in Committee.
The Secretary of State has been very open in his admission that there will need to be quite a lot of clarification in Committee. We are grateful for the fact that he said several times that he would seek to take careful notice of the issues of concern that turned up there.
Our stance will be constructive, because we feel that, if London is to be treated as an experiment for a new type of government, that experiment and that type of government must work. It must work because London's national and international significance cannot be overstated. London is a cosmopolitan community, which reflects all aspects of the human race and human activity, and it is indeed the greatest city on earth. It has a dominant position among the capital cities of the world. Last year, London was voted best city in which to locate a business, best city for external transport links, best city for internal transport and best city for telecommunications. The position of the City of London as the world's leading centre for financial institutions is undisputed.
All that was achieved under 18 years of Conservative Government. In the teeth of the then Labour Opposition, the previous Government freed up London's economy and enabled it to flourish, targeted areas for regeneration, and focused efforts and resources to do so.
I cannot agree with the Secretary of State's remarks about the role of the Greater London council. If anything stood in London's way, it was the Greater London council. It was bloated; it was over-bureaucratic; it spent £2 billion a year to no tangible benefit. It spent a lot of time on gimmick politics. It subsidised underground fares instead of committing to a full programme of investment. Its management of the roads was so bad—
Although I have clarified the matter several times, Opposition Members keep repeating the allegation that the wicked old GLC subsidised fares instead of putting money into the capital investment programme. Is the right hon. Lady not aware that the entire capital programme for London Transport was controlled by the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for the Environment? They had to give prior approval for any item of capital expenditure. Every year, the Greater London council proposed a major capital works programme to the then Tory Government, and every year it was rejected. We never had the choice of choosing.
I think the figures speak for themselves.
The Greater London council managed the roads so badly that the Government had to take them out of its incompetent hands. Above all, the Greater London council was used as a platform—rather like this debate—to call for such things as abolition of the monarchy and more taxes on business. I believe that this debate is being used as a platform by hopeful mayoral candidates.
We were right to abolish the Greater London council; we make no apology for doing so.
Given the right hon. Lady's remarks about the roads, can she confirm that, since the Greater London council was abolished, average traffic speeds in London have drastically declined? Is that not an indictment of the policies pursued by Conservative Governments since 1986?
I absolutely agree that London has boomed. Strikingly, the improvement in the London economy just happens to have coincided with the disappearance of the Greater London council. My right hon. Friend has not mentioned the dead hand of the GLC on planning; I am sure that she will do so later. Subsequently, some major London sites were freed up, once the Greater London council—whatever its political complexion—was no longer there to kill the plans dead.
I agree with my hon. Friend's points. It is curious that before the general election the Labour party told Londoners that it would bring back the Greater London council. It is strange, but there again perhaps it is not, that since the Labour party has come to power it has said time and time again that the Government will not bring it back.
The Bill contains 277 clauses that set powers, bureaucracy, rules, orders, functions, standards, regulations, plans, audits and services, establish committees, set charges and levies and provide for a rash of new agencies of dubious accountability—and much, much more. Against that background, we should perhaps pause to wonder.
We recognise that there is a case for a voice for London. That voice will be the mayor's. Her or his voice will speak up for Londoners to national government and for London on the international stage. It was because we recognised the need for a voice for London that we recommended a yes vote in the referendum. The veterans of the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill, which was enacted in July, will be well aware that we believed that there should have been two questions in the referendum.
That view, that Londoners should have been allowed by the Government a choice on what the new arrangements for governance would be, was backed—of course, for different reasons—by many in the London Labour party, by London trade unions and by Liberal Democrats. Perhaps if Londoners had been granted that opportunity rather than the somewhat take-it-or-leave-it deal offered by the Government, more than 34 per cent. of Londoners would have been persuaded of the importance of voting. London could then have had a citywide system of government that enjoyed real legitimacy.
The right hon. Lady was good enough to mention that my party was strongly of the view, as was hers, when we considered the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill, that there should have been two questions put before the people of London. Is she now saying that it is the Conservative party's policy that democratic accountability for London government is better exercised by one person—only one person to be elected to represent London and make decisions for London, as opposed to the boroughs—than by even the modest 26 people, 25 in an assembly and one in the form of the mayor, proposed by the Government? Surely the more people, within limits, that we have to represent London, the more democratic will be the voice that Londoners have.
I shall explain exactly what our view is on the role of the London boroughs. I rather think that the hon. Gentleman knows what that view is because it remains as it was at the time of the referendum. It will be the task of the House to ensure that as the Bill passes through its stages the concerns that remain are exposed and responded to by the Government.
We are the first to recognise that a mayor cannot exist in isolation. Clearly there must be checks and balances. There must be a body to scrutinise the mayor's activities. The principles on which we shall judge the Bill and scrutinise the Government's proposals in Committee will be those on which we base our approach to all local government. For example, will the proposals set out in the Bill enhance accountability and transparency? Will they add to or diminish the democratic process? Will they encourage people to engage in that process? A few gimmicks such as the people's question time will not be enough and will be seen for what they are.
Is the Bill really a devolution of power or is it a transfer of power to the Secretary of State? We shall be examining carefully any proposals that transfer responsibility currently exercised by local government to the Secretary of State. We need to do so because, as we have seen, the Government like to talk about the devolution of power but are not so enthusiastic when it happens, as Scottish and Welsh Members are finding to their cost. Who knows?—we may even have an intervention on that matter from the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) during the debate.
Sadly, the prospects for the enhancement of transparency, accountability and the involvement of the electorate of London as a result of the Bill are not bright. The Secretary of State spoke of quangos. However, if the Bill is passed in its present form, London will have no fewer than four intermediate layers of government between local authorities and central Government. There will be a mayor, the assembly, the London development agency and the government office for London. There will also be a transport body for London, the Metropolitan police authority, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and the cultural strategy group. They will all have something to say on issues affecting Londoners, who will need a lexicon to know who is saying what and on who's behalf.
Is the right hon. Lady saying that the bodies will not be accountable to anyone? They will be accountable to the mayor and the assembly. That is the difference between a quango and a democratically elected body.
I am saying that the proliferation of organisations and the criss-cross of responsibilities between the various groups of people who will be elected in London will not contribute to the transparency and accountability of the system. It will be almost impossible without a guide for people to work out whom to approach with a query or a problem. The assembly constituencies will be so vast that there will be only the thinnest of constituency links. More than 40 per cent. of assembly members will have no constituency links. There will also be overlapping responsibilities, with an accompanying confusion of accountability. In Committee we shall be seeking to expose how that will work and whether the claimed devolution to the people of London will help them to understand the system.
The voting systems involved do not present the best of starts. Londoners will be asked to vote for their borough councillors on the first-past-the-post system every four years. They will also be asked to vote for the mayor and assembly every four years, but for that they will use the supplementary vote and additional member systems—a curious hybrid of first-past-the-post and a party list system. In the other three years they may be asked to vote for one third of their councillors annually, possibly under first-past-the-post, perhaps eventually under an alternative system yet to be announced and subject to the result of a referendum that may take place before the next election—or after it—on the system proposed by the Jenkins commission. I rest my case on transparency.
I said that one of the key criteria that we would apply was local accountability. That is why our support for a yes vote in the referendum was qualified. We believe that insufficient regard is being paid to the London boroughs and that they should have a greater input to the decision-making process. The boroughs are an effective way of delivering local services. Of course some are better managed than others and all have their good and bad points. There are areas of deprivation and poor standards and there are areas of well managed excellence. There is certainly a sense of civic and local pride and a sense of identity.
I am encouraged by the right hon. Lady's conversion to transparency and accountability, because that has not been apparent so far in Westminster. Will she bear it in mind that what is happening in Westminster sits uncomfortably with what we are proposing for local government and for London? Our proposals might make abuse of power, including the lack of local accountability that we have seen in Westminster, a lot less likely.
I knew that someone would mention Westminster, because Labour Members always do. It is perfectly possible for us to raise counter points, such as Hackney, or, if we are going outside London, Doncaster, where there is a police inquiry room in the council headquarters. There is nothing to be gained from such an exchange. We are trying to examine the proposals in the Bill and decide whether they will make things better for the people of London. The question is whether the system will be clearer, more transparent and more accountable as a result of the Bill.
That is the point. We are saying that we can learn from experiences such as Westminster's. We are putting forward proposals that work. The right hon. Lady is saying that the current system provides local accountability; we are saying that we need different systems.
Of course Labour Members require different systems. That is why they are introducing the Bill. The Opposition's task is to decide whether that will provide an improvement for the people of London. We have already said that we are in favour of a voice for London—that will be the mayor's voice—but the responsibility of the House and its procedures is to see whether this great Bill, with its 277 clauses, will provide a better answer for Londoners than the status quo.
Our view at the time of the referendum was that the assembly would be better comprised of 33 assembly members—nominated representatives from each of the 32 London boroughs and from the Corporation of London. Those women and men, through their own councillors, know what is happening on the ground. They speak with authority on London matters and reflect the diverse voice of London. That view was not extreme; it was widely supported during the referendum campaign. Whatever the Government's reaction to the proposal, it might at least have been worth putting to the people of London in the referendum. We thought that Londoners should have had the choice.
Has the right hon. Lady discussed that particular idea with the representatives of the London boroughs? If she does so, she might discover the clear statement from the Association of London Government, confirmed in writing to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister today, that the proposal that the assembly should be made up simply of representatives nominated by the London boroughs
is not a view shared by the majority of Boroughs in the Association of London Government.
The hon. Gentleman will find that the Evening Standard survey provided the answer to his question, which is that there was a great deal of support for our proposal. If he was so confident, he might at least have put the choice to Londoners. There should have been two questions in the referendum. There was wide support for that, which is why tomorrow we shall urge hon. Members to support our reasoned amendment.
To pursue the intervention by the Minister for London and Construction, does not the right hon. Lady accept that her party's proposal for the leaders of the 33 local authorities to make up the assembly is flawed, first, because they can meet anyway—and do so, through the Association of London Government—and secondly, because they would, by definition, come to argue the case for their local authority? People could not have a strategic view of the concerns of London if they were there to defend their corner. That would be a bit like going to Vienna to argue for Britain, as opposed to having the view of the European Parliament or the Commission, which is a slightly wider view of Europe.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the newly elected members of the GLA will have no constituency concerns, he is much more optimistic than I am. Indeed, I can hardly believe that that is what the Government have in mind; otherwise they would have had them all elected on a Londonwide basis and none of them representing any parts of London. No doubt the Government will deal with the hon. Gentleman's question later.
Our concerns do not stop there. The Bill sets out the mayor's core responsibilities. As the White Paper made clear, she or he is to oversee transport for London, the major part of which was to be responsibility for London Underground. This afternoon, the right hon. Gentleman seems to have revealed that his plans for restructuring London Underground will not be ready by May 2000, or possibly not for some years after that. That seems to be an admission that his plans for London Underground are in disarray, and a vindication of our warnings to him that they would be.
I have been at the job only 18 months. I announced in March that we would go for the public-private partnership. It is a complex deal that has to put together three infrastructure companies and separate a public operating company. That takes time. Even in proposals where the last Government were involved in such areas, it took a considerable time—a year, two years, three years. I do not envisage that happening in this case.
We have made an assessment, and I believe that it is possible to proceed with it. We will share out these assets between the publicly operating company and the infrastructure companies. I hope that their bids will come in, and believe that they will, but I am not prepared to set a time that will help people to negotiate to put me against the wall, which is precisely what happened with the previous Government. It cost hundreds of millions of pounds last time, and I will not make that mistake.
Whether it is a public-private partnership or a convoluted compromise depends on how one looks at it. The right hon. Gentleman has been forced to admit that he is having great difficulties delivering his plan. The Treasury forced him to give up the annual £500 million to London Underground by 2000, so he asked the private sector to give him that sum to invest in the underground. However, because he has left in place the management who are making a hash of the job, there are complications in putting together a deal.
I do not follow the right hon. Lady's argument. The underground has a new managing director and a new chairman has to be appointed because I got rid of the previous one—that is by any definition a change of management.
I have had to deal with the £365 million cut in the underground investment programme that was made in the Tories' last Budget. We restored that money and sustainable investment. She is right to say that it was assumed that, if we made progress, the money would come from the public-private partnership by 2000. It is not clear whether we will achieve that target, but if we do not, we will deal with the problem and review matters properly. Having restored the resources that the Tories cut, we will not undermine the underground.
Will the right hon. Lady say where the £500 million is being taken from? Our commitment was for three years; we hoped that, in 2000, the money would come from a public-private partnership. We will wait to see whether that happens.
It has not happened yet, as we are still waiting for the bids. The proposals do not apply until 2000, which, as the right hon. Lady may have noticed, has not arrived. Unlike the previous Administration, we will not sacrifice the investment in the underground.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that he is in a mess. In the transport White Paper, he announced the withdrawal of the subsidy. He now says that the plans to replace that subsidy will not be in place by 2000, but he cannot say when they will be. I hope that, in winding up, the Minister for Transport in London will explain what will happen if those plans are not in place, as the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to know.
The White Paper contained a lot of high-flown talk about an integrated transport policy for London, but if, as the right hon. Gentleman wants, the mayor has responsibility for London Underground, that will be a ball and chain. The right hon. Gentleman is not clear whether the public-private partnership will work or when it will work. He is not bringing in private sector management expertise, so the responsibility will be a ball and chain for the mayor. The sooner he accepts that, the better, although we can, of course, examine the matter in Committee.
The withdrawal of funding from London Underground affects the Bill's proposals for congestion charging—another matter of concern for the Conservative party—about which the right hon. Gentleman did not say much in his opening speech. Obviously, we share the concern about the effects of traffic congestion on health and on the economy. Pollution is also a problem, even though emissions from cars are infinitely cleaner than they were 20 years ago. To use the motorist as an income stream, however, is not the answer.
Will the right hon. Lady take this opportunity to distance herself from her friends on Westminster city council, who last week wrote to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister asking for powers on traffic congestion as soon as possible, including the power to examine the feasibility of congestion charging?
I expect the hon. Lady will find an opportunity to read the Bill and reply to Westminster city council herself. Are not congestion charges only a means to clobber the motorist yet again? The right hon. Gentleman has not delivered on his promises, as he admitted this afternoon.
The right hon. Lady has said that she is not in favour of introducing a new income stream. Is she distancing herself from the previous Government's Green Paper which made it clear, after analysis, that there would be a presumption in favour of introducing legislation in due course to enable congestion charging? That conclusion was right, and we included it in our White Paper. We also discussed whether the money should be related directly to transport expenditure. We have made it clear in our document on congestion that the 100 per cent. stated in the Bill will be applied, and that we will review the matter after 10 years. That is a fair assessment, and there is an admitted principle in terms of hypothecation. Has the right hon. Lady got the Opposition Treasury team to agree to hypothecation during that 10-year period—or, if the Conservatives were ever to be elected, would they scrap it?
The right hon. Gentleman's position on hypothecation is a bit vague—even in terms of the Bill. We are not against the principle of road charging on the basis that people thereby pay for what they are using.
The Secretary of State is taking £0.5 billion from London Underground. The public-private partnership which was to provide the investment to repay the subsidy for London Underground is in disarray, as he has said this afternoon. He is imposing more taxes on the motorist, but whether that money from the motorist will go into public transport improvements is a moot point. His own document, "Breaking the Logjam", cast doubt on whether the money would be hypothecated, and schedule 13 of the Bill contains the stated intention that the proceeds of those charges should go into the Consolidated Fund.
For the Secretary of State to claim, on the one hand, that he will hypothecate congestion charges to invest in public transport while, with his other hand, he is taking £0.5 billion out of London Underground is frankly so incredible that, tomorrow night, we shall have to urge the House to accept our reasoned amendment.
It may be a reasoned amendment, but it is not a reasoned argument. I have not said, and it is not true, that we have taken £0.5 billion out of London Underground—it is exactly the opposite. We put that amount in, following the comprehensive spending review. I have conceded that, in the last year, we hope to receive funding from the public-private partnership, but we must wait and see.
Bidding means that we do not know what people will offer—it is called negotiation. If the right hon. Lady thinks that she should know the amount of a bid before it is offered, that shows why the previous Administration got into such a mess, and cost the privatisation process billions of pounds. [Interruption.] Let us not contest that point—the Select Committees have made it clear. She has now admitted that the Opposition agree that a new income stream can come from charging. That is not what she was saying five minutes ago. That new income stream was in the Green Paper. Let us agree that she agrees with that, anyway—whatever she was saying five minutes ago. That much is clear. What we are saying—
Order. I appreciate that the Secretary of State is responding to points made in the debate, but interventions are getting longer and longer. A great number of hon. Members wish to speak today, and of course there will be an opportunity for Government and Opposition Front Benchers to wind up at the end of the debate.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The money will be used for those transport purposes for 10 years—as we have made clear in the document on congestion. The period of time beyond that is for the House to judge in a review. We are agreed on hypothecation—does the right hon. Lady agree on hypothecation?
If the Secretary of State refers to the comprehensive spending review, he will see that funding for London Underground is to be phased out by 2000. That is what I mean when I say that he is taking £0.5 billion a year from London Underground. He has admitted this afternoon that he is not at all sure when the public-private partnership will come into place to get that sorted. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for reminding the Secretary of State that he has had his say.
I wish to ask a few questions of principle to which the Minister might like to respond when she winds up later this evening. Who can remove the mayor, and by what mechanisms? Under what circumstances will the mayor be able to intervene in local planning decisions? How was the pledge in the White Paper that the new arrangements will cost Londoners 3p a week calculated, and why has the London School of Economics computed the cost at a great deal higher? How will consistency be achieved between the planning strategy of the London development agency and the spatial development strategy? Will the mayor set environmental targets? Should London, the least typical of all our cities, be the guinea pig in this experiment?
We agree that London should have a voice. We support the concept of a mayor for London, but the Bill as drafted will do little for transparency, accountability or the people's involvement in London's governance. It is a recipe for conflict at every one of the layers of government that it will insert into the way London is run. It makes the capital and the people who live and work there guinea pigs.
The Deputy Prime Minister failed to explain how the Bill and his funding plans will deliver improved transport systems for Londoners or, even more important, how the experiment will fit into the piecemeal and ill thought out constitutional reform on which the Government have embarked. London is worth more than the Bill. We will urge the House tomorrow to support our amendment.
Personally, I look forward to the voice for London having a distinctly nasal quality.
If the speech that we have just heard from the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) is an indication of what the passage of the Bill holds in store, it is clear that the Opposition will have to accept, as they did with the Scottish Parliament, that once people have voted in a referendum, the major issues are settled and it is now important to get the details right.
The most important detail, which did not come out in the right hon. Lady's speech, is that it would be a great mistake to confuse this proposal with the talk about mayors being elected in other parts of the country. Those mayors would be within the existing structure of local government, which delivers personal services such as housing and social security, but the Bill contains a package of powers that is the first stage towards regional government for England.
There might be some confusion. When the Government, in their second term, set up regional authorities for the rest of England, as I hope they will, perhaps they will not call the leaders of those authorities mayors. The Bill adds up to something much closer to the German Länder than the city authorities that are the subject of another Bill. I welcome that, because throughout my political career I have never doubted that the centralisation of power in Britain—the idea that everything can be run from Whitehall—is completely and fundamentally wrong.
To give but one simple example, when I was elected to the Greater London council in 1973, within a year or two—it was nothing to do with me—the council proposed to the then Labour Government the extension of the Jubilee line to docklands. That Government, on Treasury advice, turned it down on the ground of cost. The following Conservative administration of the late Sir Horace Cutler went to the outgoing Labour Government and then to the incoming Government of Baroness Thatcher with a proposal that the council should build the Jubilee line extension to docklands, and the Thatcher Government rejected it.
My administration at the GLC in 1981 made exactly the same proposal. The people representing London were consistently right about the need for the line, and we would not now be biting our nails wondering whether it will be finished in time if London's representatives had been allowed to go ahead and get it built; it would have been running for the past 10 years, and we would no doubt have been able to go on to develop the Chelsea-Hackney link or other projects. In the same way, it was pressure from the old London county council that advanced the issue of a barrier across the Thames to protect London from flooding. Therefore, I am delighted to see the restoration of some form of democracy to Londoners.
I had grave reservations about the idea of separately elected mayors and authorities, but my concerns were mostly resolved by the decision to pay members of the assembly. Under the original proposals in the consultation document, it would have been impossible for the members of the assembly to operate any effective check on the mayor if they had not held full-time, salaried posts. Those tasks will occupy them fully.
I take up a point raised by the Opposition: how can a mayor be removed? It is not enough to say, "At the next election, via the voters." Our system of democracy is such that if leaders in national or local politics lose their grip or the situation becomes dubious, members of their party can remove them. When I was the leader of the GLC, the other 91 members watched me like a hawk, or like 91 hawks and I always had the impression that the Labour members were even more rigorous in their scrutiny than the Conservative members. I cannot see a way to remove the mayor in the Bill.
Let us imagine a nightmare scenario. Imagine that Lady Porter had not been forced to become an international fugitive from justice and move abroad the £27 million that she owes the Westminster residents, and suppose that by some horrible chance she had been elected mayor and then all the scandal of her misuse of council funds had come to light. The Bill contains nothing that would allow her removal. Rich people, as we have seen, use all the mechanisms and expensive barristers to delay and delay. I hope that, in Committee, we can—on a tripartisan basis—find a mechanism to insert in the Bill that would allow the removal of the mayor, in exceptional circumstances.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point with which the House and most Londoners will have total sympathy, because they want the mayor to be accountable and replaceable, if he performs badly. The assembly will be able to modify the budget with a two thirds majority vote. Should that be sufficient to remove the mayor, or should a 51 per cent. majority of the assembly constitute a vote of no confidence and a sufficient justification for disqualification of the mayor?
There are two obvious methods. We could have the American system of a recall, in which a petition from Londoners, perhaps requiring 500,000 or 1 million signatures, could remove the mayor, but that might be difficult to organise. However, if we give the assembly a two thirds majority veto over the mayor's budget, it may be more effective to have the power of removal of the mayor resting with the assembly. It must be possible to draft legislation to ensure that that is not done on a partisan basis. As we have seen on the three occasions that the question of removal of an American president has been considered, it is unlikely that the mayor would be removed simply on a partisan basis. If so, there would be a backlash among Londoners. We must consider the question of removal of the mayor in Committee, because it would be a nightmare if someone recently elected were exposed as being at the centre of a network of dubious manoeuvres, as Lady Porter was, but was able to delay and drag the matter out from court to court and to remain in office for the full term.
The 5 per cent. threshold for the selection of an assembly member off the list is another point that worries me slightly. It may seem a small point, but it could cause festering ill will. Given that there will be 25 assembly members, someone would need 4 per cent. of the vote to get in fairly, but the Bill would add a further 1 per cent. barrier. Suppose a Green candidate got 4.9 per cent. of the vote, but was told that the seat would go to the Labour, Conservative or Liberal party. A 5 per cent. barrier would seem to discriminate against the Green party, and that party should have its voice heard in the new assembly.
The date of the election also concerns me. The Deputy Prime Minister announced that it will be 4 May 2000. I am confused by that. Shortly after the general election, the Prime Minister said that when he stood at the millennium dome a minute before midnight with his finger poised over the button that will set it rotating—or whatever it will do—he would want the newly elected mayor of London to be standing by his side as a symbol of a new Britain in a new millennium. Ever since I moved into first place in the polls, that item seems to have slipped back on the agenda.
There is no case for putting off the election until May 2000. With a bit of luck, the Bill could become law by the summer, and we could easily have an election in the autumn. Londoners have waited so long for a democratic voice. I hope that we can return to the election date in Committee.
Once the Bill has become law, the electoral mechanism should be put in place immediately. If it is not, the mayor will be elected along with the assembly in May 2000, and he or she will inherit budgets drafted by the Government and will have to appoint staff and so on. Effectively, the mayor will not take real control of the authority until the start of the following financial year. If the assembly and the mayor could be elected in autumn 1999, they would be in a position to impose their will on the budgets being drawn up, to get the key staff into place and to become a fully functioning authority for the start of the financial year in 2000. I see no reason for further delay. Londoners have waited too long. The Bill must clear the House of Lords by the summer, and we expect it to clear the House of Commons by the end of March, with a bit of luck.
No one could disagree with most of the items in the Bill. I am sure that the Tories will find some matters on which to disagree, but the powers being given to the mayor are obvious and commonsense powers. However, we should also consider what powers are not being given to the mayor. Perhaps appeals against borough planning decisions should go to the mayor rather than to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. If we are to give serious power to the mayor and the assembly, we must re-examine the powers that will remain with the Secretary of State to see whether we can devolve planning powers further. The mayor might be able to call in the Secretary of State as the final authority on the major planning issues.
One big weakness lies in waste disposal. When the GLC was abolished, there was one waste disposal authority for London. It was on the verge of making major strides towards bringing environmental principles to waste disposal. The Tory Government of the day took the view that that authority should be broken into four or five nice privatised chunks so that they could make a bob or two on the side. There has never been any justification for that action, and the subsequent years have brought the lunacy of Westminster council stopping the removal of waste by barge, and putting it back on the roads. There is a crying case for a single waste disposal authority for London, organised and operated by the mayor and the assembly.
The mayor's limited involvement in health is a good step forward, but the mayor and the assembly would clearly be ideal to become the health authority for London. If people had been able to influence a mayor who had had control over that area during the past 20 years, we would not have seen the systematic destruction of so many of our hospitals and the loss of so many bed spaces.
Logically, the development agency that will be established for London will need a close link with further and higher education in the capital. Since the abolition of the Inner London education authority, further education institutions have been forced to compete for students who bring in the quickest return for the least expenditure. We do not have one central Londonwide body to ensure that the widest spread of courses are available for Londoners and are dispersed properly throughout London, as happened under the ILEA.
I must also raise again the question of some tax-raising authority. In my response to the White Paper, which I circulated to all hon. Members, I called for the new mayor to have congestion charging and car parking tax-raising powers and I welcome the response that the Prime Minister made to those proposals in his speech to the Labour party conference. That was a good first step, but we should be prepared to trust the people Londoners elect to take such decisions further. I still see no reason why the mayor and assembly of London should not have similar powers to the Scottish Parliament to vary tax for Londoners. That proposal could be a part of the great democratic debate.
I would add those extra provisions because they logically fit into the mayor's powers and would form the pattern of regional government for England that will have become the norm within a generation, I suspect. In many instances, it might be the most important legacy of this Government to the long-term governance of Britain.
I accept that the Government are cautious. London has always been slightly frightening to national Governments. That is why Londoners had to wait 50 years after the rest of the country to get the original London county council. It is always feared that Londoners might be too radical and might elect unsavoury elements to office or some such thing. They might elect radical socialists, for example. Those fears caused Lord Salisbury to argue for the abolition of the LCC before it was even 10 years old. He said that there was no practice too socialistic or revolutionary that it was not being undertaken by the London county council—nothing seems to change.
As I plough through the Bill, I suspect that an element of that doubt remains. Central Government are worried about giving too much power to Londoners. We can live with that in this Bill, because the task of establishing from scratch the embryonic regional government for London and tackling the transport problem, which is the most appalling and immediate concern, will engage the first assembly and mayor. However, I give notice that it is the duty of the new mayor and assembly, once in office, to study in detail what further powers should be devolved to them. During the second term of this Government, I hope that we will provide regional authorities for the rest of England, which will be strengthened. I hope that we will be able to build with confidence on a successful first attempt at regional government in London.
I welcome the Bill. The Deputy Prime Minister has taken on board some of the concerns raised when the first consultation document was published. I have not the slightest doubt that we can make the proposal work. I certainly intend to do everything that I can to ensure that the Bill is strengthened in Committee. I shall apply to be a member of the Standing Committee and I very much hope that, with the luck of the draw, I may have some role in ensuring that the mayor carries out the will of the Government and creates a good and effective authority for London, which is a matter of pride and which will no doubt lead to Londoners at the next general election saying, "The promise was honoured. We've had a good mayor and a good Administration. They are beginning to tackle the transport problems." I also hope that I can look forward to seeing the Deputy Prime Minister campaign at my side in my struggle to become the Labour party candidate.
I must first put on record the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister said from a sedentary position that he would campaign for the Labour party candidate. As long as the right hon. Gentleman has few powers to intervene in the selection, the Labour party will be pleased.
We welcome the Government's commitment to returning democratic government to London. That was always our position. We shared the Labour party's opposition to the abolition of the Greater London council and the Inner London education authority. The present commitment was in the Labour party manifesto and was the subject of discussions between the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats. We disagreed about the detail and the structure, but we were committed to the principle. Therefore, we are grateful for the introduction of a Bill and, unlike the Conservatives, we will vote for Second Reading tomorrow, just as we voted on Second Reading for the other constitutional legislation to establish a Parliament for Scotland, an Assembly for Wales and regional development agencies for England; to enact human rights legislation and enable human rights to be taken up in our courts; and for elections to the European Parliament to be by a fairer system.
As I told the Minister for London and Construction, we will also co-operate with a timetable which would enable work in this House to be completed by Easter, and in the other place by the summer. We may be left with some supplementary legislation in the spill-over period—orders that might follow from such a large Bill—but the objective should be to hold the election in May 2000, as the Deputy Prime Minister announced to the House. In that matter, I dissent from the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone).
The Deputy Prime Minister did not say what the Government propose to do about the start date of the authority. Perhaps the Minister for Transport in London will give us the answer in her reply. The latest proposal rumoured is that the Government will hold the elections in May 2000, but the authority will come into existence in April. I do not know what people will think of politics if the elections are held after the body is created. It sounds topsy-turvy to us—like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
I have a sensible proposal for the Deputy Prime Minister and I would ask him to be strong—as he sometimes is—with his civil servants. The elections should be held on the first Thursday of May 2000 as he suggests, but the new mayor and members of the assembly should take up their positions on 1 July, which would allow a few weeks for the mayor to choose his or her back-up team and for assembly members to decide who is to lead the assembly. That would bring two benefits for London and, perhaps, even some peripheral advantage to the Government. London would have its new authority halfway through the millennium year. Also, as it cannot be beyond the wit of civil servants and everyone else to realise that the financial year will be divided into one quarter and three quarters: the first quarter would be run under the old order, without a Londonwide government, and the remaining three quarters would be run by the new order.
In the months ahead in Committee, we hope the Deputy Prime Minister and Ministers will seriously consider that option, as it would be a far more logical way to bring London government into existence. It follows the pattern of many other Governments abroad. The American example is the most obvious. The President and Members of Congress are elected in November and they take office in January, having had time to prepare what they want to do.
We will co-operate to get the Bill on to the statute book so that Londoners can vote for a mayor and assembly in 2000, but we will vigorously put forward our constructive criticisms and amendments. We want the body to be Londonwide, democratic and accountable to Londoners, but much less accountable to Ministers in Whitehall. That is why in the instruction on the Order Paper, to which Madam Speaker said we could refer, we listed our five principal objections; and for each we have constructive alternatives.
The objections are, first, that there is far too much central Government power. Secondly—we share this view with the hon. Member for Brent, East—the Bill contains no power to vary the amount of money that is collected from Londoners. Thirdly, the mayor is too powerful relative to the assembly. We think the latter should be more powerful. Fourthly, further education and health should be included—not all education, but further education co-ordination and regional strategic health planning. We are happy to have a lean and mean authority, as the Deputy Prime Minister put it, but we want a healthy and well-educated one too.
They go together.
I am grateful for that concession. I will pocket it and put it back on the table in an agreed form later.
Fifthly, there should be a different electoral system. I concede that the Deputy Prime Minister and others have listened to views expressed and moved from their original position. I am not being churlish—and I am being only slightly mischievous—when I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that I think I am right in saying that the system for electing the mayor, apart from being conceived in the Cumberland cottage of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), is used only for the Sri Lankan presidential elections. I have nothing at all against Sri Lankan presidents or their elections, but the system does not appear to have a huge international pedigree. It is also more logical to have a system where people—Londoners are quite competent to do this—can list candidates in order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. That does not always, or normally, mean that the person who starts bottom ends up top.
It can, but the Deputy Prime Minister knows that the problem with his supplementary vote system is that it effectively means a two-horse race.
There is no perfect electoral system, and I have never pretended otherwise. I am not one of those nutters for electoral reform: I have always believed that some systems are relative improvements, and I here suggest a relative improvement which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept in the new year.
We also propose to the Government that if there is to be a deputy mayor, that person should be chosen by and from the assembly, not appointed by the mayor. I hope that that at least will be conceded.
We propose, as might have been expected from the pedigree of such good ideas, the single transferable vote for the assembly. It is a fairer system, and it is not only us but people who know much more about these things who say so. If we are not to have that, I expect that we will have a bit of an up-and-downer about open or closed lists. The issue is still to be further debated up the road in the Lords in respect of Europe and will be debated in this House and in the Lords in respect of London. We believe that, if we are to have a list system, people should be able to vote for candidates too. That was our view in respect of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, and we withdrew from it only to get the Bill through. For London, we start from our preferred position: we want open lists so that Londoners can vote for candidates in their preferred order on the list and do not have to have the list as it is given to them.
Does the hon. Gentleman propose a region for London and a regionwide list system? STV operates best on a fairly wide regional basis. Is it not the case therefore that there would no guarantee of local representation? The vagaries of selection for the regional list might militate against the very particular interests of various parts of London ever being voiced on the assembly.
The hon. Gentleman is always serious in asking his questions. We will return to the matter in Committee. We did not propose that. I thought that I had sent him a copy of our proposals when we went round this course last year. I shall send him and other colleagues another free copy of "Home Rule for London". We proposed STV in a few multi-member constituencies across London. People would not vote in respect of London as a whole. He would vote in north-west London while people in my area would vote in south-east London. As a fall-back from that—life moves on—Lord Jenkins has proposed an alternative that does some of the things that he wants. It has a first-past-the-post variant so that people can express preferences for constituency seats and a top-up element. We must consider such alternatives. I want to get the best system. I agree that a Londonwide list which might include no one who knows anything about north-east London and the outer boroughs would be inappropriate. We have not supported that.
There were some Government defeats on such issues in the other place. I do not know how brave peers will be in the new year; it depends on whether they get instructions from the Conservative Front-Bench team and, if they get them, whether they follow them. On the assumption that the Opposition might get their act together, we will try to secure amendments in the other place, and for several more months, the numbers in the Lords will still allow us to do that.
We have two other issues, on which we differ fundamentally from the Government, to flag up. The first is small in the context of this great new sort of regional, sort of citywide government, but I have raised it with Ministers before. I hope that in this Bill we can correct an unfairness that affects only London, which is the only part of the United Kingdom where people cannot have parish or community councils if they want them. It would take no more than a clause, and people would not have to have parish or community councils. There is no reason why at local level in London boroughs such as mine with 215,000 people, the people should not be able also to have small parish councils to deal with small parish or community council-type business.
Our vision is of a federal United Kingdom, also with regional government in England, local authorities underneath and parish or community councils below that. That is partnership politics between the layers of government; not the consensus politics of which the White Paper talks, but co-operative politics. The Government missed the opportunity to seize the moment to give us regional government for London. [Interruption.] I understand what the Deputy Prime Minister says but I regret it, because we could have gone for regional government, for which he and I have always argued. That means that we will have to come back to this again. That is a pity.
The Deputy Prime Minister is right to concede that this is not regional government. We have done our adding up. There are nearly 600 references in the Bill to local government but less than 100 to regional government. That seems to confirm that what is proposed is more a variant of local government than regional government. That is a pity.
The second matter of apparent difference is the start date, to which I alluded earlier.
I hope that the Government and the people of London find our differences much more constructive than the position taken by the Tories; I am sure they will. The Tories want the mayor to be all powerful in London government. The mayor would be the only person elected by Londoners to do a Londonwide job. Beyond that, the borough leaders would come together to argue from their borough perspectives—nothing wrong with that—in a sort of assembly of 33. That can, and should, happen anyway. I think that there should be and will be meetings between the mayor, the assembly and borough leaders. It is nonsense to think that a meeting of borough leaders should replace a strategic authority. The Conservatives' only other point concerns privatisation of the tube. A manifesto that says only that we should have a mayor but no assembly and privatisation of the tube is thin gruel as an answer to the Government's proposals.
I have worked out that I have three interests to declare. First, I represent a London constituency and, like other London Members, have a constituency interest to represent. Secondly, thanks to Ministers, one of the prospective sites for the Greater London authority is in my constituency. Thirdly, so that the House does not think that I am dissembling, I make it clear that I have a further interest in that I intend in the new year to put my name forward for selection, and possibly therefore election, to the Greater London authority. That is a matter for me, not my party, but I put it on record so that people do not think that I am trying to hide something from the House.
That is not a matter for today. I am trying to make it clear that I have an additional interest in the outcome of the Bill. I hope that that suffices for the time being.
Whatever our different interests in the outcome, we are dealing with a great transformation of government for a huge number of people. The figures are extraordinary. Some 7 million people—more people than in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland—are involved. There are 5 million voters, a work force of more than 3.5 million, and 3 million households. Interestingly, more than one third of those households are people who live alone. That is an important London factor. There are 1 million visitors a day. Interestingly, too, four fifths of the people who come in use public transport. We should never forget that in a city where fewer people have private cars than in other regions of the country.
London already has the best and most comprehensive bus network of any comparable city, and a greater length of tube lines. There is also its wonderful ethnic and linguistic diversity. The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) noted that the city is a hugely successful financial centre, as well as being the third most popular tourist city in the world. That is the great city that we are seeking to give to the authority to deal with.
What we must try to do is make London more than just a great city. We share the Government's objective of wanting London to be an environmentally sustainable city—and one which offers the highest quality of life to those who work here, live here and visit. That is not a description that any of us would argue currently applies to much of Greater London. We want it to be a healthier, safer and more prosperous city, but we agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that better health, improved safety and greater prosperity must be shared more equally. London is a terribly unequal city, as my own constituency illustrates. The gap has widened: the rich are very rich and some of the poor are very poor indeed. If the new London government does one thing only, which is to bring Londoners closer together in their enjoyment of the city's benefits, that will be in everybody's interest. We shall all be judged by the outputs, not by our input into today's debate.
Like the hon. Member for Brent, East, I hope that the Government will trust Londoners with as many decisions as possible. At the end of the day, that is far more democratically safe: it is much safer for the Deputy Prime Minister to give Londoners the power to throw out their government if they do not like them, than it is for him to retain powers to himself and so have to shoulder some of the blame if things go wrong.
My hon. Friends and I share the view of the hon. Member for Brent, East that we have to do something to reduce the relatively unrestricted power of the mayor as proposed. We intend to table an amendment, on which we shall be happy to negotiate, that would provide a power of recall. If, say, 90 per cent. of assembly members passed a motion, they could force the mayor to resign; or if 10 per cent. of Londoners signed a petition, they could trigger a referendum that might force the mayor to resign. I gather that it has been proposed in Japan that, if a mayor's proposal on budgetary matters is not passed, the assembly members can force the mayoral resignation; but that, if they do that, they too have to go back to the polls, which ensures that they do not use their power inappropriately.
I hope that we can have a debate on that subject, because the problem of having an all but all-powerful mayor but no power of recall is not sufficiently answered by being able to vote the mayor out of office every four years. As the citizens of Washington will remember, when a particular mayor is in office, four years can be far too long.
They did indeed, but for a mayor to conduct his city's affairs from prison is hardly satisfactory.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) said, the Bill contains a huge number of references to the powers of the Secretary of State—there are more than 250 such references and the Bill has only 270-odd clauses, so there is almost one power per clause.
I must have missed a few.
The Deputy Prime Minister has owned up again—that makes two concessions I pocket. The Deputy Prime Minister has realised that he will still not be powerful enough. I have heard of the all-powerful aspirations of Yorkshiremen, but this is ridiculous—even in Welshmen who are Yorkshiremen by adoption. It is the Liverpudlian extraction that protects him from megalomania.
The crucial clauses are clauses 25 to 36, because they contain the meat of the Bill, dealing with principles and powers, not with structure and policies. They illustrate the accumulation of power that the Bill contains, with the Secretary of State's full knowledge, I am sure. Clause 26(2) states:
In deciding whether to exercise any of the powers of the Authority … a body or person shall have regard to any guidance issued
by the Secretary of State. Clause 27 starts well, with:
The Authority shall have the power to anything which the Mayor considers will further the purpose
of the assembly. However, one then comes to what must be the subsection to reduce the power of the hon. Member for Brent, East, clause 27(10), which states:
The Secretary of State may by order … make further provision for preventing the Authority from doing … anything … which may be done by a London borough council, the Common Council or a public body"—
that is any public body—
and … which is specified, or is of a description specified, in the order.
As if that were not enough, the final subsection in the clause, subsection (11), states:
The Secretary of State may by order impose limits on the expenditure which may be incurred by the Authority by virtue of subsection (1) above.
The mayor can have wonderful strategies, but not strategies that are truly her or his own, because clause 33(3) states:
the Mayor shall have regard to … the need to ensure that the strategy is consistent with national policy".
I am happy that the mayor's strategy should have to take account of Government policy, but what is the point of having London regional government if it cannot decide its own strategy where it thinks that the Government's strategy for the whole country is inappropriate for London? If the mayor does not do what she or he should do, clause 36 provides that the Secretary of State
may direct the Mayor to prepare and publish the strategy within such period as the direction shall specify.
Finally, schedule 13, which was referred to earlier in respect of transport, enables the Secretary of State, in respect of both road charges on users and the non-residential parking place levy, to require the GLA
to pay a prescribed portion of the net proceeds … to the Secretary of State".
So the Secretary of State is going to tell the authority, "You have the power to raise the money, but I'm going to take a whole load back, thank you very much."
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the proceeds of the congestion charges Londoners pay should be spent in Chelsea or Cheam, rather than in Cheltenham or Chester; and that the Bill must be amended so that the Secretary of State is not entitled to a portion of the proceeds of congestion charges?
My hon. Friend has a good point, although the alliteration makes me suspect that he thought of it some moments ago. He is right: Londoners, who will be paying the charges, will expect the money to return to them.
I shall reiterate the position, because either the hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) was not listening to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. Let me make it abundantly clear: every penny of money that is raised from congestion charging or the non-residential parking place levy will be spent where it is raised for the benefit of transport. There will be costs, but once those costs, which we believe can be kept to the minimum, are covered, every penny raised will be spent where it is raised.
That was clear and I am grateful to the Minister. If that was said before, I accept it. However, in that case, it appears that schedules 13 and 14 are not needed.
Well, we can return to that point in Committee. If the Minister is right, we accept that. We are happy with a 10-year review, but for the first 10 years, we want the money to go to the citizens of Chelsea and Cheam, to echo my hon. Friend's phrase. If that is the case, we can agree and so save time in Committee. That is the third point I pocket.
I hear what the Minister says and I am hopeful that we can agree that the big clawback clauses, which are always written in by civil servants to give big powers to their Ministers, should be done away with. I gather that such powers are called Henry VIII powers, but the Secretary of State is a far slimmer, meaner and leaner man than Henry VIII and I am sure that he does not need such powers as that autocratic monarch had in years gone by.
As the hon. Gentleman may imagine, I was reading that very paragraph in bed last night. I went to sleep and nearly dreamt about it—although my dreams had nothing to do with Henry VIII.
I am grateful for this opportunity to spare the House from having to hear about my hon. Friend's dreams. I refer him to the Minister's comments: she said that money would be spent where it was raised. Does my hon. Friend agree that that interpretation could be applied to the contributions of those people who travel into London from outlying areas? That would trigger the use of the relevant subsection in schedule 13 and the money could be spent outside London.
We heard the Minister's statement and my hon. Friend has raised a linked question. It may be that we can begin the debate tomorrow if my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) catches Madam Speaker's eye. I accept that the issue must be pursued. We are worried that the clauses may be too powerful, and the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) and Conservative spokesmen appear to share our concern. I hope that the drafting will reflect the comments of the Secretary of State and the Minister for Transport in London.
It is in my speech, so read it.
I will pocket a copy of that as well.
There are serious funding concerns. The Government will retain their capping powers—I understand that they will be the latest upgraded Prescott variants on capping. However, if this is to be genuine citywide government, the GLA should be able to set the ceiling and the floor and control the funding from left to right. The authority will have a starting budget of £3 billion, with the power to raise money to increase that sum to £4 billion or £5 billion. There are many detailed financial considerations that we must discuss in Committee. For example, the Government Office for London, which currently has a budget of £1.25 billion, will retain £750 million after the establishment of the GLA. Why does it not have to hand over all of its budgetary powers and responsibilities to London government?
The budget for London transport raises different issues. It appears that, unlike other capital cities, London could be without any national subsidy for its transport system under the new regime in the new millennium. I remember that, when the Secretary of State was the shadow transport spokesman, he regularly reminded the then Government—we believe correctly—that London Transport needed public subsidy. It is worthwhile for the taxpayer to pay for the public transport system because that is in the public's best interest.
It is a nonsense not to allow the people of London to choose how much money should be raised. The Government eventually conceded that power to Scotland—although the Scottish Parliament will not be able to exercise that right for the first two years. The population of London is much bigger than that of Scotland. Although the GLA will not be a national parliament, we must trust Londoners. If they think that more money should be raised—as they did with the "Fares Fair" policy under the GLC—they should vote for it, and the same applies if they want to see less money raised.
In the hours and days ahead, debate will rightly turn to the key issues in the Bill. A sustainable London means a sustainable transport system. I hope that we can agree—I think Ministers are starting in the right place—that we should look first at the pedestrians, then the cyclists, the public transport users, then quasi-public transport such as taxis and the river bus, and finally the cars. We must try to ensure that London works first for those who use the most healthy, cost-effective and least congesting and polluting forms of transport. I hope that we will see integrated ticketing for London river transport. The Secretary of State has been committed to that policy for many years, and I share his objective. I know the difficulties involved, but it would be wonderful if London's public transport system included the river.
There is another issue—to which we shall return—concerning the confusion between borough and London responsibilities regarding roads, particularly trunk roads and some roads out of the city. I will not go into detail now, but we are concerned that that issue has not been thought through and concluded adequately.
I turn finally to policing. Londoners will welcome the fact that, for the first time since the establishment of the Met at the beginning of the last century, London policing will be democratically accountable. At last, London, like the rest of the country, will have democratic policing. I am confident that the police want that also. In that way, democratic participation will address the difficulties of recruitment, racism and inherent prejudice—which is perceived and often real—which still exists in the police force.
Our job is to get a Bill on the statute book. However, the Liberal Democrats also want to ensure that the Greater London authority has real Greater London authority autonomy and ensures greater power for Londoners. We have a suspicion that the control freaks are hanging on on the Government Front Bench, or possibly behind it. We suspect that some people are not yet willing to let Londoners run London. We see our job as speaking up for Londoners so that they may reclaim the power to run this great capital city themselves.
I crave the indulgence of the House: this may not be another nasal contribution, but it will be a throaty one, because of my bad cold.
I came to London from a small town in south Wales to study at Imperial college—then, as now, one of the world's foremost scientific institutions. The college is situated in south Kensington, within strolling distance of the Serpentine and the great green spaces of Hyde park. I found a great and wonderful soaring city at my feet. I had little money and no thoughts of a car, but I went everywhere. I fell in love with Kew gardens, and went to the Proms, the south bank and the ballet. I even stood through "Gotterdammerung" at Covent Garden—although only once.
It was some years later, when I left academia and went to work for Shelter, that I saw the other side of this great city: the appalling overcrowding of families, and the damp and unfit flats and Rachmanite landlords. The injustice and inequality that I saw then led eventually to my being elected as the Member of Parliament for Lewisham, Deptford—the most deprived part of a borough that is the 14th most deprived district in England. First impressions bear out those statistics. There is neglected social fabric: poor environment, poor housing and ill health.
However, we also have a vibrant community, with extraordinary ethnic diversity that is expressed in commerce and culture. We have our own great institutions, such as Goldsmiths, Laban and Lewisham colleges; a community theatre at the Albany; Hales, a superb modern art gallery on Deptford high street; and a variety of artists' studios linked to regeneration initiatives. This is the London we share: a city of great contrasts, marked by extremities of wealth and poverty. It is "a capital divided", as the London Research Centre's study of the same name showed two years ago.
New Labour's manifesto promise to Londoners was to deliver the leadership and infrastructure that would promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of the many, not the few. We are today debating the substance of that promise, and I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on bringing it to fruition. I cannot speak comprehensively in the time available, but, like other hon. Members, I shall touch upon a few issues.
The first issue is the mayor. I have no doubt that the mayor's success will lie in the quality of leadership that he or she brings to the job: the ability to inspire confidence and pull together all the key players—or possibly warring factions—who can provide the dynamic leadership and partnerships necessary to deliver strategic policies. There is already considerable consensus about the Government's plans, as witnessed by the many organisations that have written letters of support to London Members of Parliament.
The mayor will also need to listen carefully to ordinary people. The most recent picture of London opinion was provided by a Mori poll on the health of Londoners commissioned by the King's Fund and the Evening Standard. The findings certainly present a challenge. Three out of five Londoners think that our city is an unhealthy place to live, and half think that the situation is getting worse.
When asked in the survey what the London mayor's top priorities should be in solving the problems associated with ill health, nine out of 10 people opted for environmental issues, including traffic reduction and improving air quality. Not surprisingly, other top priorities included work opportunities and life-style issues, such as child care and tackling drugs.
The poll clearly tells us that the quality of the environment and people's health are no longer subjects for expert epidemiologists but matters of common public perception. As with everything else in London, there are enormous inequalities in access to health services. I believe that the mayor's role must be clarified and strengthened in relation to the health of Londoners. I trust that my right hon. Friend will revisit the proposals advanced by the King's Fund—particularly the case for a public health unit to inform the mayor's policy agenda.
I turn now to transport, wherein lie Londoners' greatest hopes and fears. Seven years ago, as shadow Minister for Transport in a team headed by my right hon. Friend, I wrote our first transport strategy for London. It has stood the test of time. We said then:
We will link land use and transport planning to provide greater access at lower environmental costs. We will set higher standards for every aspect of public transport and maximise the integration of different modes to make easier, more pleasant and reliable travel. We aim to create greater fairness in that the needs of women and those with disabilities are better met.
The mayor and assembly of London must rise to that challenge. Nationally, the Government have already laid down a template in the integrated transport strategy White Paper, and every Londoner could suggest changes that
would make a difference. Often, the decision to run a car in London is based not on the need to commute to work but on the need to travel to leisure and other public services and facilities.
We know from survey after survey that women are especially concerned about their personal security on public transport. Even as someone who is not afraid to travel on public transport in London at night, I recognise the intimidating environment that is presented by deserted, poorly lit stations, tube trains ankle-deep in rubbish, and frequent, unchallenged anti-social behaviour by other passengers.
There has to be a case for more staff outside rush hours, and more attention to passenger comfort and convenience. A strategic view demands proper integration of all modes and ticketing policies that assist and encourage people to travel on public transport, rather than defeating them at every turn. One has only to consider what has happened at Paddington since the setting up of the non-integrated Heathrow express and the chaos created as people leave that train to get tickets to other destinations. Today, it is nobody's job to deal with such problems; tomorrow, it will be the mayor's job.
The need to discourage car use and expand public transport capacity is now a matter of consensus among opinion formers, but if we are not to disable the mayor from the outset, we must ensure that a central strategy can work. There has to be money to expand capacity ahead of punitive measures. Buses are, of course, the quickest answer. A strategic network with draconian powers for policing bus lanes and green, clean, low-floor buses will go a long way to creating alternatives to the private car. I make a plea for better standards of driving of those important London buses.
No mayor worthy of the job will countenance any of the moneys raised from congestion charging—which, of course, we all support—going to anything but public transport. I am grateful for the guarantees that Ministers have given Londoners today.
Mobility is central to London's economy, and it is appropriate that the mayor should establish the new bodies and appoint the members of the new transport authority for London and the London development agency. The task of the mayor and the assembly will be informed by the recently published comprehensive blueprint for economic regeneration, "The London Study", which was led by the Association of London Government, and the first report of the London Development Partnership. Those studies embrace the realities of modern city living, counting the economic, social and environmental costs of urban growth. They argue that the key to solving the problems identified lies in adopting a model of sustainable development.
In that model, three policy areas—economy, environment and equity—are given equal and overlapping status. Many of us have argued for that for a very long time. We all know of the tensions that exist between economic development, social cohesion and environmental protection, and nowhere more so than in London. The mayor's greatest challenge will be to lead and foster the negotiated partnerships through which strategic success can be delivered.
Londoners have fallen behind in the modern labour market, which is often not recognised in the House. As the London Development Partnership report points out, unemployment here is second only to that in Merseyside, and considerably above the rate for Wales, for Scotland and for the UK as a whole. Almost half the country's ethnic minority communities live in London, and suffer disproportionately from unemployment. That is a huge challenge, and an opportunity.
London must get its fair share of the spending rounds and regeneration funding. Our small businesses need better support, not only for start-ups but through the continuing commercial life cycle.
The community and voluntary sectors also need better recognition of their enormous contribution, and the way in which they are rapidly adding to our sum of economic regeneration. Of course, our economy is rooted in the service industries and tourism, which offer the mayor a potentially huge—and probably very enjoyable—role as an ambassador for London.
Surely, if we are to promote the delights of our great cultural centre, the time has come to follow the examples of our competitor cities in other parts of Europe and pedestrianise our central areas.
As well as direct and indirect powers, the mayor will have the opportunity to produce strategies on biodiversity, waste, air quality, noise and culture. Although a number of bodies, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the London Wildlife Trust, welcome the Bill, they have expressed concerns that I share and seek to raise today. The mayor's strategy will set an important precedent for the statutory basis of local biodiversity plans, but it will be important for the mayor to be able to take action to help to deliver the measures agreed in the plans.
Excellent work is already under way in a partnership of environmental bodies working in London on biodiversity. The London Wildlife Trust, of which I am pleased to be a member, has set up the first biological database, which will inform the process. It is now widely recognised that biodiversity is the best indicator of our natural environment, and its incorporation into strategic planning in London is crucial.
I want to touch on the important extension of democracy that the Bill represents. As my hon. Friends have said, for far too long, London's services have been run in an unaccountable way. The new strategic bodies—the London transport authority, the London development agency, the metropolitan police authority and the fire and emergency planning authority—will counter that lack of democracy.
Like most other commentators, I warmly welcome the new openness and accountability in the proposals for mayoral reports, the debate on the state of London and people's question time. The only discordant note that I have received came from the London Voluntary Service Council. It is not opposed to those measures—quite the contrary—but it wants the voluntary sector to be more closely involved and consulted. I am sure that it is right—the sector's contribution to London life is extremely important, and I hope that Ministers will return to that issue, and consult further on it. I thought that the proposal for a civic forum, which was flagged up in the White Paper, was excellent.
On a completely unrelated point, will the Minister reassure us that the new London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority will be able effectively to co-ordinate with the London ambulance service, which remains outside its remit?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the start of the debate, policing will be dealt with tomorrow. Suffice it to say that crime remains at the top of most Londoners' agenda. Thankfully, crime is falling, and is being substantially addressed by the Government's national plans for partnerships to reduce crime and ensure local safety.
Intelligence-based policing and local partnerships are clearly the way forward, but in London, as others have warned, the greatest challenge lies in restoring and retaining public confidence in the police. Without it, no strategy can move forward at the rate we need. London's population is now one quarter non-white and, as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry has shown, Londoners of good will, black and white, want racism in the Met stamped out once and for all.
I regard it as a privilege to have taken part in this debate on behalf of my constituents and, indeed, the people of London. London is indeed a great city, but it has been slipping behind in many respects. Our task will be not only to modernise the city, its institutions and its governance, but to prepare it for the future and take it into the 21st century.
Clearly, the mayor of London will be a very special and busy woman or man, but, whoever is elected, he or she will be entering that great new office with the enormous hopes of all Londoners riding on him or her and on the new assembly—hopes that they will deliver to us the great world city that London should be, and, at the same time, a better quality of life for the people of London.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock). I hope that she will not be embarrassed if I say that my only disappointment is that we no longer hear her from the Government Front Bench.
I was also interested to hear the contribution of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). He prayed in aid the Marquis of Salisbury, who was the Prime Minister at the turn of the century and who, unknown to me, tried to finish off the old London county council. I can only say that my view of the Cecil family has undergone a dramatic change in the past few weeks.
The Greater London Authority Bill is a very important and very long Bill. It has 277 clauses, 243 pages and 21 schedules. Obviously, it will take a little time to go through it clause by clause, line by line and word by word in Committee. In light of what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, it might be helpful if I make a public declaration here and now to the effect that I have absolutely no intention of standing as mayor or for membership of the assembly. When the House has heard my contribution, it will understand why, and doubtless greet it with a great sigh of relief.
I regretted the fact that the referendum consisted of only one question. I accept that 72 per cent. of the people who took part voted for a mayor and an assembly. My party voted yes, but we wanted a mayor and not an assembly. I think I am right in saying that the Liberal Democrats wanted the assembly but not the mayor. We have to look to the future now, and accept that we have to make the mayor and the assembly work, but I think that it was a mistake for the Government to insist on just one question. They could proceed with much greater confidence had there been separate questions, but that is all in the past.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) that the assembly should be informal, and have the minimum necessary powers. It is important that the mayor has direct contact with the 32 boroughs. I accept that he will, but it would be better if the assembly contained one representative from each borough, preferably the leader, and, of course, the City of London. We are introducing into the governance of London not only a mayor and an assembly but the London development agency on top of the existing unitary boroughs. We are also keeping the Government Office for London. If we are not careful, the governance of London will be suffocated.
I have not read every word of the Bill, but I have read most of it. Ministers might call me to account, but my impression is that it will encourage bureaucracy, sow confusion in the minds of Londoners as to which body has which powers, and cause dissension between the assembly and the mayor. The assembly and the mayor will both argue that they have been directly elected, and will seek ever more powers. Empire building is inevitable, no matter how hard the Government try to control it with legislation. I am absolutely convinced that the result will be an unnecessarily costly exercise, which will take powers and influence away from the London boroughs.
We can have differences of opinion about this, but since the abolition of the Greater London council in 1986 and of the Inner London education authority in 1990, the governance of London has come closer to its people through being managed by the boroughs.
It is all very well for hon. Members to say that there is an overwhelming wish for a Greater London body to be re-established—I am not making a party political point, as abolition took place under the Conservative party—but had my constituents been asked way back in the 1960s whether they wanted to leave Hertfordshire and join Greater London, I know what 95 per cent. of them would have said. However, the compensation of joining London—or one of the compensations, as there may have been a few—was that education moved nearer to the town hall. The town hall, although it was in Hendon rather than Barnet, was nearer to the people of Barnet than was Hertfordshire's county hall. There were pluses and minuses.
Given the resolution of the people of London to have a mayor and an assembly, we want to ensure that both work in the most cost-efficient, fair and effective way possible. The Secretary of State referred to the successes of London. Those successes have increased rather than diminished in recent years. I know that the hon. Member for Deptford, like all hon. Members, cares deeply about the terrible social problems in our capital city. I share that concern and the resolve to do something about them, but I do not think that the creation of a new tier of government will necessarily solve them.
I stand to be corrected, but I do not think that the White Paper, which was published just before the referendum—I was grateful for that—made it clear that the authority would have powers to impose new taxes on motorists. I remember warning that the referendum should take place after the Bill had been passed, so that Londoners would know exactly what they were voting for.
I said that Green Papers can be quite different from White Papers, that White Papers can be different from Bills, and that Bills can be different from Acts of Parliament. I remember likening White Papers to bikinis—what they reveal is interesting, but what they conceal can be vital. Some of my constituents will feel slightly aggrieved that the Government did not, as it were, come clean on their desire to give the authority the power to impose new taxes on motorists, a measure included in the Bill.
The White Paper claimed that the Government themselves would meet most of the cost of running the Greater London assembly and the office of mayor through grant. I am aware that 80 per cent. of the expenditure on local authorities' responsibilities in the capital is met by revenue support grant or by the taxpayer rather than the council tax payer. I believe that more funding of the new structure will have to come from Londoners, which gives me the gravest suspicions.
The Government claim that the Greater London authority will simply assume responsibility for the present £3.3 billion expenditure a year. They calculate that the administrative cost of setting up the assembly and the mayor will be about £20 million. I doubt that; I shall be interested to see the administrative cost for the first year. I wager that, whatever it is, it will be more than £20 million. It will have doubled in five years.
I have seen such things happen in the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. Once such a body—doing wonderful work, I am sure—is created, there is an impelling imperative to find more work. The functions—if not the powers—of the assembly are comprehensive. I draw hon. Members' attention to clause 14. So far as I can make out, the assembly has the right to investigate and report on virtually anything. It will take that opportunity. Hon. Members may say that that is a good thing, but I am not so sure. Such a power will create an overweening bureaucracy, which will be very costly.
The Deputy Prime Minister kindly allowed me to intervene on the subject of planning. I declare a possible interest. For many years, I have been a non-practising chartered town and country planner, and I am a fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute. I mention that because, for the first time, I have heard the phrase "spatial development strategy", which will become the responsibility of the mayor.
I note that London boroughs' unitary development plans will be required to conform with that strategy. Although I have no objection to that in principle—it seems eminently sensible in principle—I think that, in practice, at least some London boroughs, including mine, might be concerned. Barnet was the first London borough to put into practice its unitary development plan, which is coming up for renewal. There might be a problem fitting in such a revision and renewal when the mayor introduces his spatial development strategy.
Will the Minister say whether applicants and appellants under the development control system will retain the same rights, especially those of appeal to the Secretary of State, once the mayor has the right to direct a London borough—the local planning authority—to refuse an application? I, personally, would like the Secretary of State's power to be retained, and the mayor not to be given such a power to direct. I firmly believe that such matters require co-operation between the Secretary of State and the local planning authority. As the mayor will appoint members of the planning committee and the London development agency, it is important that there should be no conflict of interest.
The hon. Gentleman is raising a very important point about the relationship between the boroughs and the GLA. Does he share my concern that, if the mayor directs an authority to refuse planning permission, costs might be imposed on the authority following an appeal, which would not have been imposed if it had taken a different decision unfettered by the mayor?
Perhaps it would be helpful and put the hon. Gentleman out of his misery if I reassured him that appellant rights will indeed still rest with the Secretary of State.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that. It clears up a substantial point, but lays even greater stress on whether the mayor should have such powers.
Detailed points are, of course, for the Committee, but I want to raise one or two in order to discover whether they find any echo in the Chamber. First, under clause 40, it is proposed that a people's question time will be held twice every financial year, which any member of the public will be entitled to attend. I am interested to know where it will be held. Perhaps more importantly, I note that the mayor and the assembly are required to be present at the question time and the people's debate, which is another special event. What will happen if one of the 25 assembly men or women is ill or unavoidably detained? That is a small but important point.
Secondly, under clause 19, it seems that virtually anybody can be mayor. Having considered the clause carefully, I reckon that any hon. Member, even among those who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales—let alone the rest of England—qualifies. I do not know whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will stand, but you have the right to do so under the proposed terms. Are paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) necessary? Instead of stipulating qualifications of age, country and nationality, it would surely suffice that any person who is entitled to vote and on the electoral register in the Greater London area is eligible.
I turn to a point on which the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey allowed me to intervene: schedule 13. It is quite wrong that it specifically requires an authority to pay a prescribed proportion of the net proceeds from motoring charges to the Secretary of State. The schedule states:
Any sums received by the Secretary of State … shall be paid into the Consolidated Fund.
That puts at risk the certainty of the Deputy Prime Minister's promise that all funds would be hypothecated into transport expenditure.
I reiterate what I said to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes): moneys raised will in their entirety be used as part of the mayor' s transport strategy.
It is not that I do not want to trust the Minister; we work together in north London on many things. However, given her answer, paragraph 15(5) of schedule 13 is totally unnecessary. We shall address that point in Committee.
When the Greater London council was abolished in 1986, the Evening Standard highlighted
Five years of futile extravagance and irrelevant politicking".
My fear is that Greater London assembly will lead to the sort of problems too many Londoners experienced under the GLC. I fear that it will lead to unnecessary bureaucracy, confusion, dissension, duplication, waste, and, most certainly, increased taxation for Londoners.
I speak as a native Londoner who represents the London constituency in which I have lived for 25 years. As a former London borough councillor, the first Labour woman mayor of the London borough of Redbridge and a former officer of the Greater London council's department of planning and transportation, I welcome with pride and delight the Second Reading of this Bill, as part of the process of fulfilling Labour's manifesto commitment to restore a strategic authority to the people of London. "Strategic" is the key word. Overall direction is vital to the efficient governance of the greatest city in the world, but it has been sadly lacking in the past 12 years of democratic deficit in our capital city.
Like other hon. Members, I find much in the Bill that I should like to comment on, but—partly because I served on my local council as chair of the leisure committee and the highways committee—I shall focus on aspects of the cultural and transport strategies and leave other detail to other hon. Members.
First, as a professional librarian and chair of the newly formed all-party group on libraries, I welcome the proposal to create a cultural strategy for London, and I welcome the fact that library services are to be part of the remit of the cultural strategy group. I am sure that the Library Association—the professional association that represents all types of libraries—will be pleased to work with the cultural strategy group, and that it will be represented on the group.
A report commissioned by the former Department of National Heritage—"London: Library City", published in 1996 by Comedia—described London as the library capital of the world. The capital has a vast wealth of library resources of all types—public, academic, voluntary, commercial and professional, from the smallest workplace library to the British Library, now in its new building at St. Pancras. The Comedia report suggests that those resources are not well known or widely used by Londoners. Moreover, in some respects, public library provision across the capital amounts to less than the sum of its parts, as each borough plans its service with little reference to its neighbour's or London's overall needs.
I hope that the mayor's cultural strategy will include a vision of library resources throughout London. The cultural strategy group could help to co-ordinate services to contribute to the Greater London authority's aims of promoting economic and social development in Greater London, to ensure equity of access and to exploit opportunities for resource sharing in order to make best use of limited resources.
The Government have pledged to modernise the delivery of services and information, and aim to provide 25 per cent. of their services electronically by 2002. The GLA, as a new authority, should be encouraged to embrace that concept from the outset. It should look to make its policy documents and services available throughout the public library network that is to be developed under the leadership of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Public libraries, and the new public library network in particular, could ensure that all Londoners have access to the deliberations of their authority, and provide a way to open the GLA to participation and scrutiny.
As a former information officer in the GLC research library, I welcome the recognition of the role of the London Research Centre in the new GLA. The research library that forms part of the centre has an enviable record in the information that it provides to support London boroughs. In its former role as the GLC research library, it also provided support to elected members and departments of the council. Members of the assembly, the mayor, the staff of the GLA and all the agencies associated with it will need accurate and timely information to contribute effectively to the development of London. The research library offers an admirable base on which to build the information infrastructure that will be required by the new authority.
I little thought, when I worked on supplying information to GLC officers and members more than a quarter of a century ago, that I would one day look up at my fifth floor window in County hall from the Terrace of the House of Commons—or that, sadly, 25 years later, I would be contemplating a visit to that beautiful and elegant building, paid for by the people of London, and the home of London government for decades, only to see an aquarium.
Secondly, I unreservedly welcome the establishment of Transport for London, which will provide a centralised resource with control of Londoners' transport needs, and make an essential contribution to the integrated transport system that our capital city so obviously requires.
I am sure that the Minister will not be surprised when I mention taxis. As she knows, taxis are a key component filling the gap between London's different forms of transport provision. As many hon. Members know, my constituency is renowned for the number of licensed taxi drivers who live in the area. A former taxi driver, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford), is sitting behind me. I hope that I shall not say anything that he had intended to say; plenty of people have done that to me in the past.
I was pleased that the taxi was included as part of the proposed integrated transport system in the White Paper this year. As we know, taxis are an important part of London's transport planning, and a vital means of linking transport termini.
I am pleased that, in the Bill, the regulation of London's taxis—and of private hire vehicles, whose licensing reached the statute book earlier in the year, following a campaign by hon. Members, including me—is to be transferred from the Metropolitan police to Transport for London. That will ensure that the taxi fleet is managed as part of London's wider public transport strategy.
Taxis provide Londoners and millions of visitors with a safe, efficient and reliable service, and it is especially important that taxis should have access to ranks at railway stations. That is at the heart of an integrated service for London's travelling public.
I urge the Minister to consider incorporating in clause 176 provision enabling a driver to designate his cab as either smoking or non-smoking. Currently, a driver can only request that a passenger not smoke, and that can, naturally, lead to a driver being required to carry passengers who insist on smoking. Obviously, that is a threat to drivers' health. A change to the legislation would closely fit the Government's wider policy on smoking.
I also hope that the Minister will consider introducing the necessary wording to enable an administrative charge to be introduced for "the knowledge". At present, it is not possible to charge knowledge applicants for the resources that they use. All testing costs—including those of examiners, syllabuses, administration and testing—are met through the driver's annual licence fee. The Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 allows minicab applicants to be charged for their tests; the same principles should apply to licensed taxi driver applicants.
I can think of no other industry where the examination of applicants or trainees is entirely subsidised by that industry's qualified professionals. What happens is equivalent to the driving test being completely subsidised by the road tax. The current situation also hampers the development of more modern procedures, as the Public Carriage Office does not have the necessary revenue to update testing processes. The proposed change would also be popular with licensed drivers, as their licence fee would be reduced. That is another change that I believe that the Minister is on record as having supported; I hope that an opportunity will be found in the Bill to update an obvious anomaly.
I briefly mention the danger that private hire vehicle drivers will register their vehicles as public service vehicles under the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981. I am aware that that is occurring in places outside London, including Southend. That practice enables drivers to circumvent checks on their criminal record, health, vehicles and topographical training. Given recent reports of further assaults by minicab drivers on women, that may form a dangerous loophole in the law.
The Bill also passes responsibility for public service vehicles to Transport for London. I hope that, in co-ordinating the granting of such licences, TFL will ensure that the hard work that went into protecting public safety by passing the Public Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 is not lost.
A modern and efficient taxi service plays a core role in a modern and efficient London. The Bill, by creating a mayor, an Assembly and Transport for London, will go a long way to establish the necessary direction and long awaited strategic planning that our capital city so badly needs.
Lastly, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) said that he might like the leaders of London borough councils to be members of the assembly, or to represent the assembly. I should have thought that leaders had enough to do; and if the Conservative amendment were successful, there would be 33, not 25, members to be paid, thereby increasing costs.
I declare an interest, although it is not in any sense remunerated. I am the elected president of the London Green Belt Council, which as hon. Members know exists to represent the interests of varied groups all around and within Greater London, to ensure that its beautiful green belt spaces are preserved.
The Secretary of State said at the outset that the Bill would produce a measure offering greater power to the people of London. I wish that it were so. I am delighted that Opposition Front Benchers have supported in principle the establishment of a voice for London, but that voice should be as democratic as possible. To me, this is the starting point, and it is the fundamental principle upon which I diverge from the Government. I voted against the abolition of the Greater London council because the then Conservative Government, whom I supported, did not offer a residual, slimmed-down strategic authority for London which could speak for the capital's interests within London, and to Government and in the councils of the nation as a whole. That, however, is for the history books.
We must address a most interesting measure. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has much experience in these matters and, as usual, he made an original, interesting and relevant speech. He described the Bill as "a package of powers leading to regional government for England." I do not share those wider objectives but the Bill has some features that are common to the prototypes of regional government which we have established both in Wales and Scotland—most particularly, the method of election for the assembly men.
I earnestly wish that the assembly were drawn up of elected representatives from each borough. Opposition Front Benchers, quite reasonably and with much cogent force, argue for those representatives to be the borough leaders. I do not believe that borough leaders should be diverted from their primary task, which is the leadership of their boroughs. To me, that is a full enough occupation, and I think that any ancillary work would be more than most borough leaders could reasonably be asked to fulfil. They are not even fully paid professionals. Many of them have other occupations, and I do not think that it would be sensible to expect them to travel backwards and forwards to central London to fulfil their obligations as assembly men as well as borough leaders. However, I recognise that my view is a personal one.
I shall argue this through if I am fortunate enough to be selected as a member of the Standing Committee. I spent long enough in the Royal Air Force to know that one should never volunteer, but like the hon. Member for Brent, East, I do volunteer. It should be a most interesting Bill to consider in Committee. As we discovered so often during extremely entertaining speeches when considering the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill of 1997, the devil will be in the detail.
I asked the Secretary of State, quite specifically, what the formula was for the election of closed-list assembly men. They are the minority of 11, but an important 11. Those 11 people will be in the privileged position of having no constituents. They will not have as much work to do as the others but they will probably have the same salary. They will not have the onerous constituency responsibilities—they will be mega-constituencies—as the other 14 assembly men.
I asked the Secretary of State what the electoral formula would be. The right hon. Gentleman did not know. At least, he could not describe its operation. It is the familiar d'Hondt formula. I do not really understand it but I hoped for some instruction from the right hon. Gentleman. I thought that the payroll was paid to fulfil an educational function of that kind. However, if the Secretary of State cannot understand the formula, how is the average Londoner to comprehend it? To revert to the question of democracy, I think that a comprehensible electoral system is fundamental to any credible electoral process.
The constituencies will be mega-constituencies of two or more boroughs. I do not think that that is right. Directly elected Members of the European Parliament showed us what that tended to mean. The average elector saw little of his Euro Member. Following the precedent that some colleagues on the assembly will not have constituencies, I suspect that we shall see little even of our constituency assembly men.
I shall take a parochial view. We all do so because it is the way in which we judge most political processes. In Hillingdon, we shall be linked with Ealing. Hillingdon and Ealing do not have much in common apart from the fact that they are contiguous. However, Hillingdon is equally contiguous with Harrow in the north and with Hounslow in the south. I suppose that the compromise was to choose Ealing in the middle. That does not especially satisfy my constituents in Ruislip-Northwood. It may not—I hate to presume this—please the constituents of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) in the south. Apart from being a compromise, I do not see what there is in the linkage for the residents of Hillingdon.
In democratic terms, I think that the assembly will be a step backwards from the old Greater London council. The GLC was a much more democratic body. There was one member for each parliamentary constituency. We usually came to know very well our local GLC representative. Ruislip-Northwood had a most distinguished GLC member. Indeed, Sir Cyril Taylor went on to become sheriff of Greater London. Many constituencies formed a close individual link with their Greater London council members.
Again, to take the parochial perspective which I think is typical among the electorate, it is important that there should be someone elected for Hillingdon. After all, Hillingdon has London Airport; and in the Harefield ward, which is in my constituency, it has probably the greatest expanse of green belt in the whole of London. In area, the Harefield ward is as large as the borough of Islington. It has most of what is left of rural Middlesex.
Under the proposed system of election, there is no guarantee whatever that we shall have any representative with a particular understanding, first, of air transport matters, which are so important to those who live round Heathrow and derive their livelihood from the airport. Secondly, there is no guarantee that the area will be represented by someone who has any special understanding of rural and green-belt issues, which are so important to my constituents in Harefield. That, then, is the problem with the assembly.
What about the mayor? I am probably very old fashioned but I suspect that the electorate understands what I am saying. I prefer first past the post. I do not like any jiggery-pokery with the figures once the votes are cast. The person who receives the most votes should be elected. I cannot see the merit in the supplementary vote system whereby the second preferences of those who are eliminated because they happen to have done worst—not first or second—count more than the second preferences of those who came first or second. That does not seem logical to me. If it is not logical to me, I doubt whether it will be logical to most of London's electors.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in an election with six, seven or 10 candidates conducted under a first-past-the-post system there is the dangerous possibility of an extremist racist candidate winning with perhaps 20 per cent. of the vote? A supplementary vote would guarantee that such extremists would not win.
Again, I am old-fashioned. I believe in the wisdom of Londoners to choose an appropriate person for the job. It is fundamental that we should trust the electors to exercise their discretion. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman's reasoning lay behind the Secretary of State's stipulation that there should be a threshold of 5 per cent. of the vote below which a candidate could not be returned to the assembly.
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point, except to the extent that it reinforces my argument with the hon. Member for Brent, East that the mayor, once elected, should be accountable. He will have huge powers of patronage over bodies such as the London development agency and the transport body for London. Offices of the greatest importance will be within his patronage. He should be checked and scrutinised and should be removable from office by a majority vote of the assembly. Co-operation and effective collaboration between the mayor and the assembly will be central to the efficacy of the Greater London authority. Londoners need to know that a mayor who misbehaves because he is racist, corrupt, lazy or inefficient can be removed easily.
The reasoned amendment so wisely drafted by my right hon. Friends also mentions the effects on transport in London. The transport functions of the authority are probably of most interest to Londoners. We all suffer from traffic congestion and the difficulties of public transport. I deeply regret the fact that the Secretary of State has not made more progress with the reform of the London Underground.
We are told that the tender process for the three infrastructure companies may not be completed until 2000. That is a long time for the bids to be open. In most commercial tenders there would be a much shorter period. Judging from the Labour party's manifesto for London, Londoners would have expected the Government to have in place by now—or, if we are being very generous, at least by the end of this year—a new system for running transport in London effectively.
I fear that there is potential for conflict between the mayoralty, with its overall responsibility for public transport in London, and commercial enterprises that have invested good money on behalf of their shareholders in the 30-year leases for the infrastructure companies. If there is too much political interference from the Greater London authority—or even a fear of such interference—the investment that the Government are hoping for will not be forthcoming.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) wisely pointed out, it is verging on the unethical for the Government to insert proposals on congestion charging and parking levies at places of work when those issues did not feature in the White Paper and were therefore not put to the electorate in the referendum campaign. They are more taxes on London.
I would not want the hon. Gentleman to mislead the House, even unintentionally. The White Paper made it clear that the Government were considering congestion charging and non-residential parking charging. A decision was deferred until publication of the subsequent transport White Paper. The issue was raised in the London White Paper and Londoners were aware of it.
I am grateful to the Minister for that, but I am afraid that it does not exonerate the Government from my charge. A consideration of a matter is different from specific proposals. That bears out the argument of many Conservative Members that it would have been more honest of the Government to put to Londoners a post-legislative referendum, allowing them to judge exactly what the powers of the authority would be and how they would impinge on life in London.
I fear that the effect of congestion charging will be negative on outer London. Motorists will come to the end of the tube line and leave their cars there, not wanting to pay the congestion charge. The congestion will be transferred from inner London to outer London, where traffic is already diabolical. I suspect that it will be made worse. The proposal will penalise those who take the trouble to get in their cars and go to work. Very often they do so for good economic or practical reasons. The idea will cause problems.
A levy on parking spaces is also proposed. Employers are doing more than enough by providing work. They have to make pay-as-you-earn contributions, they have to pay business rates, they have to pay national insurance contributions and now employers in London will have to pay a levy for giving employment. That will make them less competitive and less likely to take on workers. The effect will therefore be negative.
The Bill needs to be scrutinised with the utmost care in Committee. Like the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I am glad that the authority will not become operational until the spring or summer of 2000. We need a careful scrutiny process in both Chambers. We shall need to select candidates for the mayoralty with the greatest care. We do not want people who are in it for an ego trip or for self-publicity. The job will require qualities of the highest order to co-operate with the assembly and work together effectively. That will not necessarily be achieved by someone seeking a high profile for themselves.
The Liberal Democrats suggest that we use the intervening time for a Special Standing Committee. I chaired the Special Standing Committee on the Armed
Forces Bill. Even that fairly modest measure took days and days in Special Standing Committee. They do not even propose an open-minded Committee. The beauty of the Special Standing Committee system is that it takes as wide a spectrum of interested and informed opinion as possible so that it can come to the appropriate conclusions before the Standing Committee sits. The Liberal Democrats are suggesting what such a Special Standing Committee should do. Their instruction talks about the Greater London authority being
declared the regional government for Greater London
and having the power to conduct referendums. It would have tax-varying powers, and the ability
to transfer powers between the Mayor and the Assembly".
Those are all issues of such magnitude that they could sensibly be discussed and approved only by the House.
The Liberal instruction goes on to discuss
the establishment of parish and community councils in Greater London"—
I would argue that exactly the same applies—and also says that the Greater London authority could have a role in overseeing health and further education services.
The last two might have merits. We are bruised in our part of London because two of our leading hospitals—Mount Vernon and Harefield—are under threat, but health service issues could not be dealt with by a strategic authority for London without proper borough representatives. Most people are worried about their local hospital, the particular services that it supplies, and the particular features of their locality.
Like my party's Front Benchers, I support the measure and the mayoralty, but I do not support the system of elections that has been chosen. I should like there to be directly elected representatives from each borough, and I hope that the Bill receives the thorough scrutiny in Committee that it deserves.
I also declare an interest as a candidate—not for mayor or for the assembly, but for the Standing Committee. I urge the Whips to use the d'Hondt mechanism for selecting its members, because on that basis I may stand a chance of getting on to it.
It is 12 years since the abolition of the Greater London council, and I greatly welcome this excellent Bill. It will restore democratic strategic government to our city, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on his strength of commitment to our capital city in securing parliamentary time, as a priority, to get the Bill through. I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction, for the dedication, expertise and professionalism that he has shown in the drafting of the White Paper and for this mammoth Bill.
I read an article at the weekend about the need to return to the fashion for erecting statues to national and local figures. After reading the Bill, my hon. Friend has my support for being shaped in concrete—[Laughter.] My hon. Friend should be shaped in stone.
I do not want to dwell on the past, but it has been somewhat unseemly not to have had at least one word of apology or regret from Conservative Members for the past decade, in which London has been left bereft of democratic leadership. It is disheartening that any repentance, even at this late stage, appears to be too much to ask from them.
Whatever one thought of the GLC—many of us had immense criticisms of its structure and role—surely political wisdom dictated reform rather than abolition. Indeed, in the early 1980s there was cross-party support at county hall, and in some parts of the House, as the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said, for reform to establish a streamlined structure, some of which is in the Bill. The Bill will right the wrong of abolition, but in considering it we have to address the question whether it will achieve a reformed authority that will prove effective in representing and forwarding the interests of Londoners.
There are five tests of any democratic body. First, does the authority have clear and suitable objectives? Secondly, does it have sufficient powers to achieve those objectives? Thirdly, is its structure and organisation capable of delivering its goals? Fourthly, can it secure the resources that it needs to fulfil its role? Fifthly, will it command sufficient popular support, democratic involvement and participation to stand the test of time?
On the first test, the objectives of the new authority are set out at clause 25, which states:
The Authority shall have the purpose of promoting economic and social development in Greater London and the improvement of the environment in Greater London.
It goes on to emphasise economic development, social development, sustainable development, the creation of wealth and improvements in the health of Londoners as key objectives.
The Bill represents a written constitution for the strategic governance of our city. Although I did not expect literary artistry in the drafting of that essential clause—or calls for liberté, égalité and fraternityé—we could have been slightly more forthcoming to make explicit the positive role and duty of the new government for our city. We should set out clearly as our authority's objective the securing of the well-being of Londoners and the enhancement of the quality of life in the capital. Drawing on the White Paper to redraft that clause would give more definition to the dynamic and beneficial role that we expect the new authority to play.
I appreciate that much of the inspirational detail of the objectives, role and policies of the new body will be derived from the individual policy strategies which are to be drafted by the mayor. Surely in that key clause, however, there should be more specific reference to the vital role that the authority will play in promoting social cohesion, securing community safety, tackling poverty, achieving greater equality and tackling discrimination in any form.
In addition, a significant omission in the list of strategies for which the mayor has been given development responsibility—at clause 33—is that no specific duty is placed on the mayor to develop strategies of that sort. I am also anxious that a general duty has been placed on the authority to ensure reasonable balance between promoting economic, social and environmental development. My anxiety is not about the spirit of that proposal, but about its prospective implementation, which appears to open up a vista of litigation from individual London boroughs and ratepayers and hamstring the new authority's activities.
On the question whether the new body has sufficient powers to achieve its objectives, I am pleased that it has not only been given a wide breadth of responsibilities, but that a range of explicit powers of direction are linked to those responsibilities.
There are, however, two areas of concern. They stem from threats from above and below. From above, I am extremely concerned that clarity should be achieved on the role of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to intervene in the policies and operation of the Greater London authority.
London First, a business organisation for London, has identified 30 examples of where the Secretary of State can exercise power over the new authority and has expressed concern that they range from fundamental controls over budget setting and policy development to relatively minor issues such as approving the penalties for parking on strategic roads.
My right hon. Friend has a sweeping power under the Bill to issue guidance to the authority on the exercise of its role, as defined at clause 25. Clarity is needed on how, and where, that guidance will be developed and debated before being issued, and how he is to be held to account for the exercise of that power.
For the first time in local government legislation, there is also an extraordinary duty placed upon the mayor, at clause 33, to have regard to
the need to ensure that the strategy is consistent with national policy and international obligations.
That will introduce a national veto and control over local policymaking, which has never before been made that brutally explicit in local government legislation. In respect of international obligations, we are reminded of some past policies of the GLC, where we thought that it would be invading various places.
From below, the threat to the potence of the new authority lies in the fact that lack of definition of the GLA's remit remains in key areas. For example, in planning I am still unsure how the strategic issues over which the GLA will have responsibility will be defined in practice or what consultation will take place to develop the Secretary of State's guidance on the matter.
Planning was always a source of conflict and duplication between the former GLC and the boroughs, and it is important that we avoid such confusion under the new structure. In some areas the proposals in the Bill to exclude London borough councillors from serving on strategic bodies may work to reduce the understanding, support and co-operation from the boroughs.
In assessing whether the new structure is capable of achieving the goals of the new authority, it is clear that, at the bureaucratic level, the bringing together of the expertise from the surviving strategic organisations will provide a proficient professional base for policy advice and research. I support also the introduction of term-limited political appointments, to form the senior policy team for the mayor. That recognises the reality of many key senior appointments in local authorities across the country and the practice, which is to appoint people who are sympathetic to the causes and the objectives of an authority.
The new structure seeks to be as inclusive as possible by ensuring that there is a requirement upon the mayor to consult various interests in the preparation of key strategies, including in some policy areas, the setting up of strategy groups. However, there is an inconsistency: policy areas such as culture warrant the establishment of a strategy group whereas no strategy groups are envisaged to deal with noise, air quality or waste, for example. Similarly, some unusual omissions in the designation of whom the mayor should consult in drafting a strategy may need to be reconsidered. On biodiversity, for example, the Bill does not require consultation with the London Wildlife Trust or the Groundwork Trust.
Inclusive consultation could have been facilitated if the Bill formally supported the formation of a London civic forum, which was mentioned earlier. I hope that we reconsider that proposal, which is supported by the London Voluntary Service Council, the London Churches Group and the Association of London Government. It would establish a cross-sector, cross-community body that was firmly rooted in London's voluntary sector and civil society to advise the GLA on policy making for the capital. Moreover, it would place a duty on the mayor to consult such a forum.
I believe that the assembly's powers should be strengthened so that it has the right to be consulted on appointments to all the groups and consultation bodies. The lack of a right to recall the mayor has been highlighted. Such a right would not be a Lewinsky or impeachment clause; it would give the assembly the opportunity to exercise democratic control if things went wrong.
We should also consider what qualifications people need to stand for the assembly or for mayor. The Bill allows people to stand merely because they have a business interest or own some land in the city. On that basis, anyone who has made a large amount of money from writing poor novels may stand for the position of mayor in any city in the country on the basis that he has bought a small plot.
A fundamental test of the new structure will be whether it can marshal sufficient financial resources and expend them effectively to implement its policies and realise its objectives. I welcome the restoration of the precept but regret the reserved power to limit the GLA's ability to raise a sufficiently high rate to tackle all the long-term needs of Londoners, dependent on the wishes of Londoners. I also regret that we are not restoring the business rate, although that is another debate.
I am pleased that there will be a right of virement across functional bodies and additional funding sources, such as congestion and parking charges. I suggest that we leave it open to the strategic authority to ask the Secretary of State to reconsider additional funding sources, which may be hypothecated to pay for specific services.
I suggest a further and less contentious innovative proposal for additional resources. The City of London is proposing a Bill to reform its electoral arrangements in a pathetic attempt to dress up the inherently undemocratic sham of an authority that seems capable of serving a good dinner but not of running a vital part of London. I suggest that we insert into the Bill an amendment to the Corporation of London's proposal and allow the mayor to negotiate a voluntary lump sum payment or levy on the corporation to support Londonwide projects. Such an amendment would allow the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill to be passed contentedly; without the amendment, the Bill would be unsupportable. Some may claim that that is a subtle attempt at blackmail against the Corporation of London; all I say is that no subtlety is intended.
The final test of popular support will be whether the new authority can gain and maintain popular support. I believe that people will judge the new authority on whether it is relevant to their lives. That will depend on its powers, resources, influence and freedom to act. It will also depend on whether the people of London have a genuine opportunity to choose the candidate whom they want. Any grubby attempt to manipulate the internal selection process of a political party to prevent any candidate from running will not only have repercussions for that party but may undermine the credibility of the new authority.
I conclude with these optimistic words: I welcome the Bill and wish it good speed. In thanking the Minister for London and Construction and his team, I pay tribute to some of those civil servants who have worked over the past decade to ensure that the Bill is delivered in a form that can be supported. I thank in particular Madeleine Williams, the deputy secretary of the Association of London Government. She pioneered the London study and has worked for the past 12 years to develop alternative proposals once again to secure democratic government for London. People of principle such as her have enabled this debate to take place today.
Unlike other hon. Members who have spoken, I have no interests to declare. I was elected by the people of Beckenham to represent their interests in the House, not to divide my democratic energies between the House and a London assembly.
In the short time that I have represented Beckenham, I have discovered how unenthusiastic the borough of Bromley is about a mayor and an assembly. The area had one of the highest turnouts in the referendum but the smallest possible endorsement for the proposals. I suspect that, if the local elections had been going slightly differently, Bromley may have been the borough that did not vote for the mayor and the assembly.
Hon. Members may remember Bromley as the borough that challenged the fares fair policy, which began the Greater London council's demise. A strong suspicion of a centralised London authority continues to dominate the conversations that I have with people in Bromley about the new Bill. People, especially those involved in local government, are deeply concerned about the imbalance that may reassert itself when there is a mayor and assembly in London.
Many well-off people live in Bromley. The council has managed its affairs—at least until the most recent local elections, when the Labour and Liberal parties formed an uneasy coalition—well and frugally; it has not charged residents huge amounts in local taxation. People are concerned that the Bill will mean that local taxes will increase. We have heard reassurances, although I could not make out whether the Secretary of State said that there would be a charge of 3p or three per cent. per week—
I thank the hon. Lady for that information. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) said, the London School of Economics has calculated that that figure is more likely to be £2 per person per week. That would just be a start, however; as my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) said, and as most Conservative Members believe, taxes inevitably go up, however much we try to keep them down. That will be especially true of an organisation such as the assembly; given the opaque nature of the proposed powers, the temptation will be to increase taxes—it will be the people in Bromley who have to pay.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) pointed out that London has great poverty and great riches. No one would disagree with that but if, as he suggested, there is an attempt to sort out that problem through redistribution of wealth, the mayor and assembly will immediately face huge resentment. Bromley and many of the outer boroughs will be very suspicious of the assembly if it proposes any significant redistribution of wealth.
Hon. Members from both sides of the House have expressed concerns about relations between the mayor and the Secretary of State. Clause 27 makes it clear that the Secretary of State can override anything that the mayor wants to do. I am sure that, with the best will in the world, Ministers will say that that will not happen, but the Bill none the less allows for it.
It does not take a lot of imagination to envisage a situation where Ministers have one objective and the mayor has another, which may be a well-founded desire by the people of London for a certain policy. However, if Ministers disagree, there will be controversy and a debilitating row. Exactly the same could happen between the mayor and the boroughs.
It is clear from the Bill, and the briefing that goes with it, that the mayor can ask the boroughs to do a great deal of work that will cost them a great deal of money, and that the mayor can keep on demanding that work. Again, that will be at great cost to council taxpayers in the boroughs—to no productive effect, necessarily. The speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) showed the desire to usurp the functions of the boroughs to bring them in towards the assembly.
Conflict is inevitable, and it will be bitter and hard fought, because we must recognise that the assembly will be as political as this Chamber—although there will not necessarily be the huge majority that we have here. In such circumstances, the government of London could be paralysed. I find that concerning, and I hope that Committee members tease out a much clearer definition of what the mayor does and what the relationships will be.
One matter that has been mentioned in Bromley is the transfer of the police functions to a police authority. I join with others—including the Metropolitan police—in welcoming a Metropolitan police authority. However, the Secretary of State is keeping responsibility for the provision by the Metropolitan police of the national functions required for London, such as the diplomatic protection service, and others. I am not sure how those are to be paid for. Will that money be given by the Secretary of State to the police authority? Will the citizens of London at any time have to pay for those costs to the Metropolitan police? Who will manage those functions? The Commissioner will report directly to the Secretary of State. How will that fit in with the priorities that the Metropolitan police authority may well have? That is another recipe for conflict.
In an interesting speech, the hon. Member for Brent, East bid for the assembly to become the health authority for London, and for more tax-raising powers. I would not be at all surprised if my constituents were not tempted to vote for the hon. Gentleman, if only out of devilment, to try to subvert the assembly, which they do not like. It will be a turn-up for the books if the hon. Gentleman even emerges as a candidate—and that will be an interesting process to watch. It would be interesting to see how many votes the residents of Beckenham would give to him.
I am concerned at the hon. Gentleman's desire for more control. I used to chair a family practitioner committee in the east end of London, and I was the chairman during the move from a family practitioner committee to a family health services authority. The membership went down from 36 to 11, and we changed from a debating society into an organisation that could make decisions and get things done. If we are to change the nature of health authorities into a system that is controlled and run by the assembly—as wished for by the hon. Member for Brent, East—we will go back to those debating authorities, decisions will never be made and, I am afraid, the health service provided to Londoners would not be as well managed as it currently is.
We have had discussions about schedule 13, paragraph 15(5), and we have heard reassurances from the Minister that no money raised from congestion taxation shall go to the Secretary of State. If that is so, why does the Bill state that the Secretary of State will be able to take money and put it into the Consolidated Fund? If he were not going to have the money, we would not need that statement. I seriously hope that we get a clear answer and that that paragraph is deleted in Committee. That is the only way in which the Minister can be seen to carry out her promises on transport.
As everyone will have registered by now, I believe that the people of Bromley are deeply suspicious of the assembly. They are concerned about its centralising effect, and that they will lose local powers. They are concerned that the assembly will cost them money, to no good effect. I very much hope that as the Bill goes through the House, it is so amended that the people of Bromley can feel reassured. However, I have to confess that I doubt it.
Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I love London so. Wherever I go in the world, I come back to London, and my constituency of Romford, convinced that we have the most historic, interesting and vibrant capital city anywhere in the world. London has lacked direction and co-ordination over the past 12 years, but I believe that the Greater London authority will restore that direction and leadership.
When I thought about this debate, I realised that different manifestations of a strategic body for London have been woven like a thread through my life. When my parents were living in a bomb-damaged tenement block in London in 1948, they were given the opportunity to move to a new house at Harold Hill in Romford by the London county council. Many years later, when us children had grown up with families of our own, my parents moved within the Greater London council estate to be near us in their old age—a move that was relatively easy then and is incredibly difficult now, judging from my case work.
When I protested about the abolition of the GLC 13 years ago, my children were toddlers and the placards that they carried were almost too big for them. I am proud that they will soon be able to vote for a mayor and an assembly for London, bringing a unity of purpose and pride back to London.
At the time of the abolition of the GLC, I was angry at the undemocratic way in which it was done. I try to be a forgiving person, but I have never forgotten, and still deeply resent, the vandalism—some of it literal, as well as metaphorical—which followed the abolition. There were skips outside the back door of county hall and furniture was thrown out. The archive was broken up and the building was sold.
Every time I see the new office block going up across the road—which will house offices for Members of Parliament—I look across the river at county hall, which would have made excellent offices and, no doubt, would have saved the public a lot of money. In addition, it would have provided a home for the new assembly. I have nothing against the companies in county hall, but I cannot bear to go in there—it is too painful a memory.
Following the abolition, London fell into the hands of residual bodies and quangos. Our capital city deserves better than that. Services were fragmented, and there was no overview of London's needs. Only a Labour Government could have the courage to restore a democratically elected strategic body for London.
Nowhere is a Londonwide strategy needed more than in transport. Anyone who travels across or in and out of London—and about 3.5 million people work here—needs no lectures about the problems. Trains, buses and the underground do not stop at local authority boundaries, and there must be a co-ordinated public transport strategy. We all know that the sheer volume of traffic—cars and freight—means that it takes only a minor accident or a few cones to bring everything to a standstill. Even bicycle lanes can come to a sudden end because the road goes into a different London borough.
Getting London's transport right—and moving—is a mammoth task, and one for which the mayor and Transport for London will be best suited. The mayor will have a general duty to promote and encourage safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services, both to and from and within London. The Bill requires the mayor to prepare an integrated transport strategy which deals with the movement of goods and all forms of transport, including walking.
Transport for London will implement that strategy. It will be an executive body, with a board comprising not politicians, but people who know something about transport and management. It will be answerable to the Greater London authority, and thus to the Londonwide electorate.
I warmly welcome the commitment to concessionary fares for the elderly. Introduced by the GLC and supported by London boroughs, the freedom pass is indeed a liberating concession. It is one of the few advantages of growing older and I know that it is much appreciated in Romford. My sister was thrilled to get her pass and uses it to full advantage, hopping on and off buses and travelling up to London. By contrast, my sister who does not live in London has to think carefully about travel in her area, as it is so expensive. The freedom pass keeps people young and in contact. I hope that, when we open up river transport, concessions will be available for that, too.
In an area such as Romford, where car ownership is relatively high, many pensioners choose to use public transport rather than cars for local journeys because they have their pass, thus saving further congestion. We certainly do not want granny and granddad gridlock. I am pleased that the Bill, as far as I understand it, enables the Secretary of State to require London local authorities to meet the cost of providing concessions, even when they have not agreed arrangements to do so. The annual round of negotiating agreements has caused pensioner groups much concern in the past; now I hope that there will be a guarantee.
The provision to maintain transport for the disabled is likewise very important, and I am glad that dial-a-ride will be the responsibility of Transport for London and that there will be negotiations with the boroughs about the taxi card. I hope that the mayor and Transport for London will also consider the orange badge scheme. I have been involved in several cases in which the London boroughs seem to have been using different rules for badge holders. Constituents of mine have received fines in Westminster and Camden because their orange badges were not accepted. There should be equality of issue and implementation, giving orange badge holders as much access to parking as possible. The mayor and Transport for London could work with the boroughs on that.
I make no apologies for mentioning minicabs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Ms Perham) did. Like most hon. Members, I wanted minicabs to be regulated, and we now have the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, which will begin to be implemented next year. I know that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I truly believe that, had the GLC been in place, that legislation would have been dealt with years ago. The GLC would not have tolerated unregulated minicabs in London, and who knows how many accidents and assaults would have been avoided?
It makes sense that licensing for both taxis and minicabs should come under one body: Transport for London, transferring from the Public Carriage Office. I again make no apologies for echoing my hon. Friend's request that taxi drivers be allowed to designate taxis as non-smoking and that a charge should be made for those taking the knowledge. At the moment, because it is free to applicants it can be treated in rather a cavalier fashion. Indeed, about 85 per cent. of applicants never attain the knowledge and the successful drivers, who pay for their licences, subsidise the unsuccessful, so passengers pay indirectly for the inefficiency of the system.
There is another view on why so few people qualify, which has to do with the rather difficult to understand central control of the exam process, which makes applying a lengthy process. The office that deals with these matters must be shaken up because the situation is far from satisfactory.
I absolutely agree. All parties are looking to modernise the system.
I welcome the new police authority for London, the majority of whose members will be from the elected assembly. I also welcome the provision for environmental and waste management issues to be dealt with Londonwide because, again, pollution does not stop at a borough boundary. I further welcome the strategic overview of planning and monitoring London's health services, but I would like to see to what depth that goes.
On the day when the Bill receives Royal Assent, I will feel that the wound of the abolition of the GLC has healed. Once again, we will have a strategic body looking after London, elected by Londoners and believing, as most Londoners do, that ours is the most wonderful city and deserves the best government.
It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. We have heard some excellent contributions, and I single out those of my neighbours, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell). When the Greater London council was abolished, they both had roles in politics: my hon. Friend was in the House, as he has told us, and the hon. Gentleman was, I believe, a member of that blighted organisation.
I share some of my hon. Friend's views. I was not involved in any of the decision making—I was more likely to be dusting down some old cabinet at the time—but I have some sympathy with the view that reform of the GLC would have been better than total abolition. I must concede, however, that there would have had to be a great deal of reform. This might be seen as a bid by me not to be put on the Committee.
The Bill is lengthy and weighty. It details the functions, finances and electoral arrangements for the new authority. Many of the arguments were rehearsed last year, when we debated the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill. With my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood, I am very sorry that the Bill does not include a stronger constituency base.
I would be interested to hear from Labour Members, who have been talking about the great virtues of the GLC, which had a strong constituency base, whether they feel happy that the tie is now pretty well lost. Hillingdon is tied with Ealing. I can see the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) in his place, and the thought of being tied with him is, of course, greatly appealing. However, if the GLC was such an admirable body, can Labour Members explain why getting rid of the constituency allegiance is a good approach for the new authority?
The House does not need to be reminded that the Conservatives favoured splitting the question posed in the referendum, so that voters would have the choice between having a mayor or an assembly, or both or neither. The Government were not persuaded by our powerful arguments and we ended up with a single question on the ballot paper. At least the debate allowed the House to air the arguments about the future of London government and we are revisiting those arguments tonight.
The referendum result was disappointing. The turnout was a mere 34.6 per cent. and it could be argued that Londoners did not flood to the polls to vote in favour of the new structure. As a Member who represents an outer London borough, I must say that the support for and interest in the referendum was not impressive. The poor turnout resulted in some bizarre logic from the Minister for Transport in London. She argued that the poor turnout was a sign of overwhelming support for the Government's plan, which was a curious defence. I suppose that I am just learning.
The referendum confirmed the Government's desire to introduce the mayor and the assembly as a complete package. We made it clear that we did not believe that the two would work well together. In fact, we believe that the structure in the Bill has a high chance of resulting in conflict between the mayor and the assembly. There is no guarantee that the two will agree. It could be argued that the paranoia over the choice of the Labour candidate betrays the Government's fear of inevitable conflict between the assembly and a Conservative mayor and also between the assembly and a mayor of the old Labour variety. It is also possible that the mayor could be from one party and the majority of the assembly from another, and both would feel that they had been mandated in their elections.
Potential for conflict also exists between the boroughs and the assembly, as many local government leaders have pointed out. The Bill will result in a mayor, an assembly, the London development agency, the Government Office for London and the 32 London boroughs all vying for as much influence and power as they can get. Conflict will result at all the different levels, unavoidably leading to more bureaucracy.
The Conservatives' plan for a committee of the borough leaders or of borough representatives—my preference—to advise the mayor would mean that the existing structure of local government would be integrated into the new arrangement, not excluded as proposed in the Bill. It is difficult to see how the Bill squares with the Government's desire to renew local government, as outlined in the recent White Paper. The Bill makes numerous references to the Greater London authority's strategies having to be compatible with nationally determined policy, but power would not be decentralised to the GLA if its functions were hedged round with so many constraints.
The use of the additional member system for electing the assembly involves two votes, as we have heard. It is not clear why two votes will be necessary to operate the system. The percentage share of the vote achieved at constituency level is surely enough of a basis for allocating the top-up seats. More controversially, why does the Bill propose to have the mayor's deputy chosen from the assembly? Would it make more sense for the deputy to be elected directly? In the event of the mayor's position becoming vacant, there would then be no need to rerun the election. It might be argued that the Labour party is having so many problems trying to find one mayoral candidate who is acceptable to the leadership and the party managers that it might be even more difficult to find a running mate. I wish to put in a bid for the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington because he has relevant experience and blind loyalty to the leadership. I hope to advance his career as much as I can.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) has already put in a bid for the Opposition to support the candidacy of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). We now hear that Conservative voters in Uxbridge are flooding to the standard being raised, nobly and heroically, by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell). At some stage might we hear the name of a Conservative who attracts any support on the Opposition Benches?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. We do not have a problem with our candidates, because we have so many to choose from. Labour Members seem unable to make up their minds and have to wait for messages to come through. There are some good candidates available who will probably bring the authority quickly into disrepute.
The Bill proposes a London development agency, which would be an additional unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, overlapping with the GLA and local government. Most of the LDA' s functions are carried out by other organisations, such as London First. The proposed agency would add yet another layer of bureaucracy on top of all the others proposed in the Bill.
We welcome the idea of a directly elected mayor, working in conjunction with the 32 London boroughs, but we oppose a structure that would come between the boroughs, leading to confusion and conflict. London is a hugely successful city and a major part of the British economy. It has had rave reviews in newspapers and magazines all over the world. It is a major cultural and tourist centre, attracting millions of visitors every year. None of that is the result of the Greater London authority, but of the enterprise and hard work of its people. London needs a directly elected mayor, working with the London boroughs and helping to co-ordinate solutions to the city's problems. It does not need another layer of government on top of those that exist already.
A dozen years ago, a promise was made to the people of London that at some future time they would again have the chance to be represented as the citizens of a great city should be. There was not a dry eye on the south bank on that grim night in March 1986 when we sang along to the strains of Dame Vera Lynn and imagined the bluebirds over the white cliffs of county hall. The bluebirds are now dead, stuffed with particulates and lead, but the vision remains the same. The Labour Government have delivered on that promise. We have not gone back, because times have changed and the responses required of Government have also changed. We now have a wonderful opportunity to create a new city government for a new millennium. That government will have flair, vision and energy.
A city government that combines the talents of the mayor and the assembly will be able to champion the cause of London, represent its needs, campaign for innovative solutions to its problems and lead on its external relations. Above all, it can offer a truly inclusive model of government, helping to redress the deep divisions that scar the city—divisions between the extremely wealthy and the poor; between the highly trained, educated working population and the unskilled unemployed; between the life opportunities of black Londoners and white Londoners; and between central London and the suburbs. I was tempted to offer to bridge the gap between north and south London, but I decided not to be silly.
In pursuit of the vital objective of inclusive representation, it is right to break with the idea of electing assembly members matched with boroughs. It is right to draw a mix of members from geographically based constituencies topped up on a citywide basis. The Conservative party is wrong to argue for a form of government drawn from the 32 boroughs.
The Association of London Government represents local government in London and, as last week's grant settlement helped to confirm, it does so extremely well. During the debate on the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill last year, we argued that the worst system would be to have specific boroughs represented in the assembly, either by members directly elected from the boroughs, or by drawing from the leaders of the borough councils.
The GLC was based on parliamentary constituency borders, not local authority boundaries. I am not arguing that the GLC was the ideal model of government; I do not think it was. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) said, it had flaws, and it is, in any case, right, 12 years later, to consider a new model.
The problems of borough representation are twofold. On the one hand, borough representatives argue for their local agendas, which differ for outer London boroughs and central London boroughs for all kinds of reasons that are reflected in the political control of the boroughs. On the other hand, an assembly drawn from individual constituencies or local boroughs would make it easy for the mayor to construct coalitions of support by favouring particular boroughs or constituencies. That is why the electoral boundaries have been drawn in such a way that each constituency represents at least two local authority areas.
We must allow the Association of London Government to get on with the job it does so well—representing local government. As the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said, the leaders of local authorities should be left to get on with representing their own authority's interests.
Responsibility, Mr. deputy mayor—
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Responsibility should devolve from the Government, or rise from the boroughs, to reflect particular issues that are being transferred to the mayor and the assembly. Many other hon. Members have put the arguments for co-ordinated and pan-London strategies for issues such as transport, environmental protection, strategic planning and policing. I am perhaps a little jaundiced by my own experience of local borough representation because I represent at least part of the borough of Westminster, whose controlling councillors could not run a whelk stall without seeking to turn it to their electoral advantage, then splitting the profits to pay their own legal fees. I have a particular desire to see that that borough does not have a higher profile in the strategic management of London.
The interaction of mayor and assembly will create an opportunity to develop a new political style based on dialogue and practical negotiation. There will be conflict aplenty. I was surprised and disappointed to hear hon. Members talk as if conflict was a bad thing. It lies at the root of politics, and it is healthy and right as long as it is rooted in a passionate conviction about the best solutions for the problems of London rather than point-scoring exercises or sterile bickering.
The constituency style of representation by which the assembly is to be elected will demand a new style of politics. We shall seek to include in those politics the many disfranchised communities in London. I was particularly pleased to note that representatives of Operation Black Vote have welcomed the mayor and the assembly in the belief that an assembly with powers on economic regeneration and the appointment of a police committee will be perceived as being more important to black Londoners than the local boroughs. We must take the opportunity to reach out to the quarter or so of the London population who are non-white so that we can bring them more directly into our political and civic processes.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington in asking the Government seriously to consider the idea of a civic forum. That idea, which was debated during our proceedings on the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill, would create a vital counterweight to the political management of the city through the mayor and the assembly.
The relations of the mayor and the assembly with central Government will involve more than a little creative tension, as they should. The Evening Standard had it about right in its editorial last week, when it said:
The balance will be hard to strike … A Mayor who turned out to be little more than a Departmental Minister will be too tame for London's tastes … on the other hand, a Mayor conducting a running duel with central government will be equally damaging.
That comment positively screams for a response along the lines of a third way, but I shall resist that temptation. A challenge will give the mayor and the assembly something to rise to, and will give the Government something to which to respond. Londoners will not forgive any participants who neglect their duty in favour of posturing or vapidity.
The task facing the mayor and the assembly is huge. If we were pitched today into the anticipated annual state-of-London debate, which is a welcome part of the Bill, contributors would rightly focus on transport, an issue addressed by many hon. Members this evening. They could draw on the recent revelation that speeds on the capital's roads have fallen again to a 19th century average of 10 miles an hour. At the same time, however, one child in seven is afflicted with breathing disorders such as asthma.
The recent MORI survey referred to by hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) related to an Evening Standard poll that found that poor air quality and too much traffic were by far the most serious perceived threats to health. An estimated 24,000 excess deaths in Britain's urban areas are connected to pollution. Tough action cannot come soon enough.
Such a debate would focus also on the need for further and more evenly spread improvements in the Metropolitan police's reduction of crime. It would encourage the police to tackle the injustices of stop-and-search figures that overwhelmingly discriminate against black Londoners. A more accountable Metropolitan police service will be very welcome, and it can and must demonstrate that it is a service for everyone in London.
The debate would also pay attention to an excellent study—on which the Association of London Government should be warmly congratulated—that maps out the challenge of combining economic regeneration in all parts of London with the need for environmental sustainability.
No doubt, contributions would also be sourced to the recent independent public health study on health inequalities in Britain which, alongside other evidence, confirms that the incidence of suicide among young men is reaching a critical—even an academic—level in the city and that the scale of psychiatric morbidity in central London is four times the national average, while also confirming the recurrence in the late 1980s and 1990s of the diseases of poverty, such as tuberculosis, which have been linked to chronic overcrowding and the rise of homelessness. The devastating impact of poverty and social exclusion would be spelt out, drawing attention to facts, such as the fact that, in 1996, one in four of London's children lived in households with no one in work.
The mayor and assembly, with the tools available to them, can take on the policy debate about London's future and simplify and popularise it. There can and must be a transparent set of objectives for change in London and transparency in the measurement of progress. Citizens of London should know as fact whether our city is, at least partially thanks to their efforts, moving towards the goals of a cleaner environment, a more competitive economy and greater social inclusion. For, as "The London Study" points out,
there is not one London, but many, and children in the different Londons have grown up in different worlds".
Those divisions and that experience have weakened us, and the absence of an effective voice for London has allowed those divisions to deepen. Now, we are being given the chance to make a fresh start. As an Essex girl who came to the city 20 years ago and fell in love with it, that makes me proud.
Henry James summed up the city rather well at the end of the 19th century, when he said:
It is not a pleasant place, it is not agreeable or cheerful or easy or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent.
It is good, at last, to see it getting the government that it deserves.
I was first elected to my local authority, the London Borough of Sutton, in 1986, at the point at which the Greater London council was about to cease to be. For the past 12 years—it seems more like 15—I have observed the way in which London has been governed as a consequence.
I once saw a chart that was drawn up by someone who was trying to map the lines of accountability of decision making in London following the abolition of the GLC. So confusing was it, with all the quangos and joint boards that had been established, that it looked like a plate of spaghetti. It is no wonder that people have felt increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of governance in our capital city. That is why I welcome the opportunity in the coming weeks and months to debate with the Government how we should re-institute and restore to London what it always needed, which is a voice and a proper way to gather the strategic view and translate it into action.
In so far as the Bill returns to Londoners that right to self-government, I welcome it, as do my colleagues. However, I must point out to the Minister for London and Construction and the Minister for Transport in London that, during the referendum campaign earlier this year, I did not detect much enthusiasm on the doorsteps in my constituency for the Government's proposals. Indeed, the level of awareness of the existence of the referendum was depressingly low. I am sure that Ministers found it depressingly low as they were working hard to try to raise the turnout and raise interest in the issue.
Londoners may have voted yes in the referendum, but many more of them did not express a view one way or the other, and it is inappropriate for any of us to attribute our view to those people who did not cast a vote. In my constituency, few people mentioned the referendum on the doorstep. I dare say that the issue failed to excite constituents of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Perhaps that is a reflection of the general expectation, as recorded in the opinion polls, that it was going to happen anyway—that London would get a new form of government. After all, the majority of Londoners voted in the general election for parties that favoured restoring government for London. Perhaps it also reflected the fact that the referendum did not allow us to debate how London should be governed, but shifted the focus to the more media-friendly question of who should govern London. Like the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) I believe that it was a mistake for the Government not to allow more questions on the ballot paper, but, equally, I accept that that is now passed and we must deal with the legislation before us. That is what my colleagues and I intend to do.
Offering Londoners no choice of the way in which they were governed was perhaps a sign that the Government lacked confidence in their case—or perhaps they do not trust the judgment of Londoners. That lack of trust goes through the Bill. In some ways, the Government are hard-wiring a lack of trust into the new institutions. I shall demonstrate what I mean. The Secretary of State does not appear to trust the mayor, who is not allowed to trust the assembly or the London boroughs.
The Bill is crammed full of new powers for the Secretary of State to direct and guide the mayor. The purse strings are tightly held by Whitehall. Indeed, as Tony Travers and Gerry Stoker wrote in the Association of London Government's paper, "A Tale of Two Cities, the Government of New York: Lessons for London":
The greatest doubts about the proposals for London remain around its fiscal and financial capacity. The Mayor of London will have much more than the Mayor of New York to look to higher levels of government for funding. The relationship between the Albany—capital of the state—and New York is not always comfortable.
The proposed new arrangements for London may prove even more difficult for Whitehall given that the funding regime may give the Mayor little option but to look to central government for the increased resources, backed by the votes of some 5 million Londoners.
In other words, the same disease that afflicts local government will afflict the Greater London authority: lack of financial independence. Without that, everything that is welcome in the Bill becomes secondary.
Like any council, the GLA will be subject to the new twin capping regime—so-called sophisticated capping. The Secretary of State has described it as Prescott's sophisticated capping. I am delighted that he chose to add his name to the capping regime. There is also the council tax benefit clawback. The GLA's freedom of manoeuvre will be further circumscribed by the imposition of a spending floor as well as spending ceilings.
The authority will find its power to promote economic, social and environmental well-being—I agree with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) that the Bill's wording on this is not appropriate—undermined by lack of discretion and flexibility in using its budgets. It will not have access to the revenues that it needs to fulfil its purpose.
The GLA will be largely dependent on Whitehall for funding. Even new sources come with Treasury strings firmly attached. The proposals for congestion and non-residential parking space charges could leave Londoners footing the bill. Although we have had several welcome exchanges across the Floor and several welcome assurances from Ministers, the Bill makes it clear that moneys could be paid into the Consolidated Fund at the Treasury. There will be a problem if Londoners see themselves footing the bill without all the money flowing back into investment in improved public transport. I agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) that we need to ensure that there is investment ahead of the introduction of what might be regarded by many Londoners, and many people who live outside London, as punitive charges. A carrot-and-stick approach may be necessary to overcome London's chronic transport problems, but if Londoners learn that the Treasury is siphoning off some of the proceeds, they will regard the charges as yet another tax.
The charges must be clearly earmarked or hypothecated for transport in London. It is clear from the Bill that the Treasury has other plans. I hope that the assurances that were given earlier this evening by Ministers will be reflected in Government amendments to schedules 13 and 14.
From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman says, "Fat chance."
Clause after clause gives the Secretary of State powers to offer guidance or to intervene. I understand that the technical term for some of them is "Henry VIII clause". Perhaps we should adopt a more modern description of what the clauses are all about and call them the "Ken Livingstone clauses", just in case the persuasive speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) leads to his name appearing on the Labour party selection procedure ballot paper and he finds himself on the right side of the desk in the mayor's office.
The GLA will be highly dependent on the grace and favour of central Government for funding. It will also be very much directed by central Government in respect of its policy outputs and strategies.
There is also the relationship between the mayor and the assembly. Alongside the mayor, the assembly is a weak and feeble institution. Liberal Democrats believe that we must rebalance the powers between mayor and assembly to give the assembly more teeth, more authority and greater ability to hold the mayor to account in his work and duties. Even with his or her powers heavily circumscribed by the Secretary of State, the mayor will hold massive powers of patronage through appointments and be subject to only the lightest of checks and balances by the assembly. The assembly has no role in scrutinising appointments, and it will have a largely negative and delaying role in matters of strategy and finance.
Not only does the Bill provide the mayor with a mandate independent of the assembly's mandate: it goes on to deal all the aces to the mayor in his or her relationship with the assembly. In stacking the deck in the mayor's favour, the Bill gives the mayor the trump card in dealing with the London boroughs, as clause after clause takes power away from the London boroughs. In planning and in transport, the balance of power is tilted away from the interests of the individual borough and town hall towards the mayor's office.
The results of concentrating power in the hands of the mayor and failing to institute adequate checks and balances are serious conflicts of interest. The mayor will appoint the board of the London development agency and he or she will also approve its strategy. The mayor also approves the spatial development strategy and has the power to compel London boroughs to bring their local powers into conformity with it. The mayor can even require a London borough to refuse planning permission. Given the retention of the applicant's right of appeal to the Secretary of State, if the mayor directs an authority to refuse planning permission, who picks up the costs if the inspector awards costs against the authority—the mayor or the individual authority? I should be grateful if the Minister could answer that when she winds up the debate.
How will conflicts between the spatial development plan and the LDA's strategy be resolved? Outside London, the regional development agencies are not to be given planning powers, but the LDA will be perceived as having the power to exercise planning powers through the mayor. Those conflicts of interests run far wider than the administrative boundary of Greater London as, in matters of land use, transport and waste management planning, London's footprint—its impact—extends much further. It is important that organisations such as Serplan—the south-east regional planning conference—are in the loop when the mayor develops and consults on his or her strategies.
What are the Government letting go of? The Government Office for London looks set to stay, to fight another day; and the democratic deficit in the health service will remain. Given the Government's stated aim of promoting more joined-up government, they have missed an opportunity to link health and sustainability issues more closely. The Bill does not make it clear that principles of sustainability should underpin all the strategies and policies of the GLA.
So far, I have spoken about the relationship between the different tiers of government. The success of the experiment depends on getting that relationship right, but the experiment will fail if the GLA, in all its many guises, does not engage with London's wider civic society. That is why the proposal of the London Voluntary Service Council that there should be a civic forum for London is so welcome. I strongly agree with the comments made by several hon. Members, in particular the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck). Such a forum could build on many existing partnerships and tap a wealth of expertise for the benefit of Londoners. To be an effective partner to the mayor and the assembly, the forum would need to take its authority from statute. It should be provided for in the Bill and be seen to be more than just another consultation mechanism, alongside all the others that the mayor might or might not deem appropriate for the carrying out of his functions—
Indeed—or her functions. If London government is to be inclusive, consensual and influential, it needs that civic forum. Other hon. Members have said as much.
London needs self-government. The capital needs a strong and effective strategic authority with a buoyant revenue base. There are many aspects of the Bill that I do not like, as hon. Members might have noticed, but it does provide the basis for a constructive debate and I hope that the Government will be receptive to proposals to improve it. If the Bill is not improved before becoming law, there is a danger that the House will have allowed the Government to establish a mannikin mayor with a puppet assembly, the first tied hand and foot to the policy goals of the Government of the day—perhaps not the current Government, but one with entirely different objectives—and the second far too weak to make a difference. That would not be good for London, nor would it be home rule for London; instead, it would be a continuation of the direct rule that has led to the spaghetti-like mess of quangos and joint boards, and to complete confusion about who is responsible for governing London.
I join in this debate with a somewhat nasal voice, in deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). I shall also contribute a considerable amount of knowledge that no other hon. Member can bring to the debate. Having said that, I hope that I shall not disappoint my colleagues too much by announcing that I am not a candidate for mayor of London.
It will not surprise anyone to hear that I welcome the Bill—all 277 clauses. The large number shows the importance of addressing the democratic deficit in London. For more than a decade, London has operated at a distinct disadvantage as a result of a lack of co-ordination in many areas of local government, including planning, economic development, transport and the environment.
London's strategic approach to holding major events has also suffered. For instance, it has been some time since London last put together a bid to hold the Olympics—although some have voiced the opinion that it should do so. The millennium experience exhibition will be staged close to my constituency, and some hon. Members may be surprised to learn that there has been a lack of co-ordination across London regarding that event.
The millennium experience is a major event of national importance that will bring benefits not only to London but to the whole country. Despite the best efforts of many of my former colleagues and hon. Members who now occupy these Benches to introduce some sort of strategic approach across London, there is no chamber co-ordinating that event. The lack of a strategic authority has meant that arguments in favour of exhibitions such as the millennium experience or bids to stage major events such as the Olympics have fallen by the wayside.
Will the hon. Gentleman join me in regretting the past actions of the present Minister for Sport, his hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks)—who I believe is mooted as a possible Labour candidate for London mayor? Shortly before Labour's victory in the general election, he tabled an early-day motion suggesting that South Africa, rather than Great Britain, should be the venue for the next World cup.
I referred to a London bid to stage the Olympics, not the World cup. I would certainly support the staging of a future world cup in South Africa, and I am sure that that would not detract from the Government's World cup bid and the likelihood that a future world cup will be held in this country, with the final in London.
I wish to address the strategic role of London, which is not easy to deal with in a Bill. I hope that the assembly's members and its mayor will give priority to the function that London performs as a gateway to the rest of the United Kingdom. London is the shop window through which businesses or people thinking of holidaying in the United Kingdom view this country and its regions.
It is an inescapable fact that people look to London when they think of Britain. I do not detract in any way from Manchester's efforts to stage the Olympics, but it is highly unlikely that the International Olympic Committee or any other body that runs international sporting events will agree to stage those events or major sporting finals anywhere but in this country's capital. That is an inescapable role for London, to which the mayor and assembly will need to give priority.
I have already mentioned the scepticism that surrounds the issue of the millennium. I have spoken to many people and hon. Members from the regions who think that too much money is being spent on the millennium, and that it will bring no benefits to them. As a former London taxi driver, I know that many people come to London to visit many of its major attractions, stay longer than is necessary to do so, and spend a considerable part of their holiday travelling to the regions.
I say to those who have criticised the millennium experience as a waste of money that they should regard the event as an opportunity to attract its visitors to the regions. Not enough has been done to achieve that. A strategic authority for London will have the responsibility and the wherewithal to co-ordinate efforts to attract London's visitors to the regions. That issue highlights London's strategic role in the country, which we do not sufficiently appreciate.
Members of the authority will need to resist the temptation to view themselves merely as local representatives for London. There is an opportunity to redistribute resources from London. Currently, taxes paid by people employed in the London area provide a budget surplus of more than £200 per person. I am not recommending that Londoners should pay more than is necessary to the Exchequer in order to subsidise services in other parts of the country, but I recognise that people who are employed in London can make that level of contribution because of the city's special position in the nation's economy.
It is right that London provides a surplus to the nation's capital that will be redistributed to the regions. That, too, demonstrates the importance of London and its strategic role, which could be lost if people focus on resources and try to claw back more and more to London at the expense of the regions.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) made a point about relatively high levels of deprivation, particularly in inner London. Does not the hon. Gentleman think that there is a case for greater recognition of the extent of deprivation, such as unemployment, in inner London, which, when we consider the distribution of resources around the country, is sometimes masked by the fact that London is one travel-to-work area, but the employment opportunities in some parts of inner London are relatively few?
I accept that. There are examples of that deprivation in Eltham. It is true that there are pockets of deprivation in London which have missed out on resources because of the way in which they have been distributed. I am not suggesting that London is awash with the resources necessary to deal with those problems, but a major capital city such as London has the capacity to provide resources to the Exchequer which can be redistributed. My point relates to the important role of assembly members and the mayor in running the nation's capital, not just a regional government for London, which they need to remember.
I certainly welcome the plans to co-ordinate public transport and the road system in London under the new transport authority. Those plans not only recognise the strategic role of roads in providing transport links, but allow a co-ordinated approach to transport.
My constituency is not served by the London underground. People there rely heavily on the Connex South Eastern rail network to get to central London. That puts them at a considerable disadvantage because Connex is an extremely inefficient provider. It could be argued that that is largely because there is little alternative for the fare-paying public. They could get in their cars and drive to central London, but it is an incredibly inconvenient journey to have to make.
My constituency is bisected by two major arterial roads—the A20 and the A2—which are heavily congested every morning, and my constituents suffer the resulting pollution. Introducing a strategic approach to public transport and giving the Greater London authority some influence over franchisees is to be welcomed.
I take this opportunity to promote one of my pet subjects, which is the notion of turning over considerable chunks of our major arterial roads to designated bus links that can be publicised as extensions of the London underground network. To introduce a rail link into the London underground network in south-east London is likely to take considerable time, but if we had a dedicated bus route, which was timetabled and understandable, and advertised in a way not dissimilar to the London underground network, we could provide major links with some of our smaller towns in the Medway area.
We could bring people in on the M20 and the M2 to link with the new Jubilee line extension at North Greenwich, thereby allowing them to continue their journey. The exchange between a bus service of that nature and the London underground should be as seamless as changing from the Bakerloo to the Central line.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is now a growing consensus in London, among people of all parties and among those who belong to no party, that the part of the transport system that it is easiest to develop and to make responsive and flexible is the bus system? The hon. Gentleman's suggestion of more dedicated bus routes across the Greater London boundary, and within it, would be quicker to implement, and far less costly, than any of the alternatives immediately available.
Yes, the road network is there, and the technology certainly exists to provide priority for buses at traffic lights and so on. We could at least begin to tackle the growth in traffic volume within the M25 boundary, especially in south-east London, where there is no alternative to the rail network. That would encourage people out of their cars and on to public transport, and allow them easily and swiftly to join the extension of the London underground network.
I welcome the fact that certain responsibilities have been given to the mayor, especially that of improving air quality, which is related to the promotion of better public transport links. When I was chair of the environment committee in Greenwich, we undertook a survey outside several schools. We measured air quality throughout the day, and identified a serious pollution problem when parents were dropping off their children. The nice little school run, which is often undertaken when the car's engine operates at its least efficient, was making a considerable contribution to the poor air quality around some schools. At the same time, some parents in the area were part of the campaign to close one of the roads due to poor air quality.
I have a problem with road pricing, of which I know my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction is aware. I have shared platforms with him on which we have discussed the issue. He has made a very good case, and I commend his abilities on the issue to everyone.
The subject of the school run leads me to question whether road pricing will achieve its objective. Some of the most polluting journeys will not be prevented by it. Road pricing will be paid for by those who use their cars regularly along whichever roads charging is introduced. Those who can afford bigger cars will be able to afford the charges. Those who cannot, whose cars are perhaps less well maintained and cause more serious pollution, will be inconvenienced. Indeed, they may subsequently cause greater pollution by making even longer journeys in order to avoid paying charges.
The jury is out on road pricing as far as I am concerned. I am not convinced that it will bring about the desired reduction, but I welcome any opportunity to raise additional resources which can be invested in public transport. It is slightly perverse that the very pollution that we want to eliminate will be the source of such investment. Although I am yet to be convinced that road pricing is the best way forward, I accept that the mayor should have such an option in his or her armoury in order to try to deal with the ever-growing problem of traffic pollution in London.
I think that everyone will welcome the new police authority. Anything that creates transparency in the operation of the Metropolitan police is to be welcomed. I shall not go into much detail, because I am certain that we will have an in-depth debate on the Metropolitan police early in the new year, following the publication of the report on the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in my constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) referred to the application by the police in London of stop-and-search powers. It is a sad fact that an innocent black person who lives in London is eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than a white person. The range of powers that the police have used, which are recorded in the latest annual report, shows that there is a problem with the way in which they target certain sectors of our community.
The point must be made that democratic accountability is not a solution in itself. We must have adequate information in order to be able to monitor what the police do and how they target their resources. Such information is not collected. If the new strategic authority is to be an effective scrutineer and monitor of the Metropolitan police, it must conduct an urgent review of how police activities are monitored, how statistics are collected, what statistics are collected, and what methodology is used to collect them.
Such scrutiny is essential if the police authority is to be effective and to run the sort of police force we all want for the city of London. I end with a plea to serve on the Committee that considers the Bill.
Perhaps I may start by commenting on the penultimate point made by the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford)—who, of course, knows his way around London better than the rest of us. To be serious, he made an important point about the Metropolitan police, and the Metropolitan police authority to be established by the Bill. I hope that, when we have discussed these matters a little more, he will agree that it is not enough to establish an authority whose members include several elected members, and to assume that the element of democratic accountability created thereby will resolve some of the problems instanced by the Stephen Lawrence case.
The hon. Member must know, as I do, that it is necessary to change the culture from within, and that that cannot be done simply by monitoring, or by providing management information, or even by instituting democratic accountability to members of an authority. I suspect that the efforts of management inside the Metropolitan police, and perhaps the relationships that are forged at borough level—such as between the local head of police in a given borough and the community in which that segment of the police service operates—are more likely than anything else to create the change of culture inside the police that all hon. Members seek.
I shall now discuss the principles of the Bill. I do not represent a London constituency. Like the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), I started as an Essex boy, as it were, in that area which was Essex when I was born there and is London now, but I have worked in London all my working life. It might be useful to inject into the debate a sense of its importance to Members beyond London. London is a powerful influence on our constituencies and the wider region in which we work, so we are keen to ensure that the Bill is effective. The Bill is part of our constitution making, so we are anxious that it should proceed along the right lines.
As London is obviously a world city, we are not constructing the debate, or debating the Bill, on the basis that London should be examined within its own confines. I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House substantially accept the Government's contention that London requires citywide government, not simply because it is a big place, but because it has a range of responsibilities, and because a range of issues affect people throughout and beyond London and have an impact on the region—and the nation, as the hon. Member for Eltham was at pains to point out.
During the passage of the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Act 1998, I did not dissent from the principle of establishing some form of citywide government, because it was obvious to me that London occupies a unique position in this country and is a unique city. Although we have not reached that stage, in due course other cities may, in like fashion, desire to establish directly elected mayors to help manage their government, for reasons which, curiously, have not been mentioned in the debate.
We speak of the importance of giving Londoners greater democratic involvement in decisions that affect all of London, but the electorate's participation in recent elections in London has been low. The greatest single contribution that a directly elected mayor for London could make might be to increase the participation of the electorate in elections, and in subsequent decisions as to what is to happen in the city as a whole.
I make those arguments partly because debate on the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill centred so much on the questions that should be put to the electorate, and in fact the electorate were not given an opportunity to vote for a mayor and separately to choose whether an authority or assembly should be directly elected or constructed out of the boroughs. That is, in a sense, at the heart of the reasoned amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and others.
It is important to recognise that there is a problem at the heart of the Bill. It was not resolved by the referendum, because the referendum gave the electorate of London no opportunity to express a discrete view on this subject, which is how London is to be accurately represented in the government of London that is proposed in the Bill.
As the Minister will know, I supported and wrote about the desirability of a directly elected mayor before the general election. I am not party to a change of mind on the subject. However, given the structure of the Bill, I do not see the precise form of directly elected mayor that I for one was talking about. At this stage, we are not dealing with a directly elected mayor as a mechanism for promoting greater participation in local government. Instead, we have the proposal of a mayor as an individual operating on a wide—almost regional—basis.
That raises the question, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, whether we are talking about regional government or local government. The answer is that we are talking of neither. Instead, we are discussing citywide government. It is important to retain that distinction. In that I play a small part in these proceedings, I do not propose to treat the Bill as if it were a stalking horse for regional government throughout the country. The circumstances that apply to London are unique, and the Bill would be all the worse if it were to be treated as a precedent.
I hope that the Minister, when replying to this or future debates, does not fall prey to the trap, as the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) signally did, of treating the Bill as part of a route towards the construction of regional government.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is entirely possible to argue that the capital city of any country should have, as many do, its own form of metropolitan area government. That is the position in Australia and the United States, for example. The question that is raised by that—I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman agrees—is what we then do to create regional government for London.
Would it not have been better if the Government had thought through their constitutional agenda for England, so that we knew at the beginning of the exercise whether we would get a parliament for England or regional government, and, if so, where city government for the capital fitted in, rather than legislating for the metropolitan area of London first without any knowledge of whether we would have regional government, and if so of what sort, let alone a parliament for England, which some of us support?
The hon. Gentleman thinks carefully about these issues, and I think that he makes an extremely good point. I intended to mention the difficulty of seeing the Bill in its constitutional context. In a sense, it is easier to see it in isolation than to divine what its context might be. I am not in the business of offering the Government solutions for how we might introduce regional government.
The hon. Gentleman rightly says from a sedentary position that he is in that business. We differ on that, so I shall not offer a solution to the Government, advising them how in future they might pursue regional government. We would then be presented with the difficulty, in London, of boroughs, citywide government, and even a tier of regional government.
The Bill relates to citywide government, and that means that the Government Office for London will continue in substantially the same fashion. In a real sense, we shall continue to have both citywide government and regional government under the proposed legislation. However, I am not in the business of giving the Government an opportunity or cause to go further and construe the mayor and the Greater London authority as a regional form of government. It is fair to treat the proposals as a citywide form of government, and consider how they relate to the city and the issues of the city.
It has been central to the Official Opposition's argument and to mine that the Bill fails in the critical respect mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). It does not reflect the character of London as it is experienced by the people of London. There are three main issues of constitution making where the Bill does not yet satisfy. First, when one constructs political institutions, it is best—I would suggest mandatory—to follow political identity.
As a Member of Parliament from East Anglia, I do not believe that there is a political identity called the eastern region, so it does not make sense to create a form of government for that region. Unlike some other regions, London has a political identity. Whether that identity precisely matches the boundaries of the former Greater London council is a matter for debate. However, as the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North said, that political identity consists of many citywide problems, but many Londons within that. That is at the heart of the political identity of London.
I remember talking about Essex London, Surrey London and Middlesex London in a previous debate. I was born in Essex London, which is not necessarily first and foremost in London. In many parts of London, one is primarily in the relevant area rather than in London. During the Uxbridge by-election campaign, we were well aware that it was not just Uxbridge.
When did the hon. Gentleman last hear a popular song celebrating belonging to Uxbridge or saying "Maybe it's because I'm a Northolter"? Has he ever heard evidence of that?
My hon. Friend mentions the Lambeth walk. I have not yet arrived at the point at which I believe that popular music culture should be the determining factor for governance in London. I think that we are some way from that.
My hon. Friend makes a better counter to the Minister than I managed. I shall rest on the superiority of sporting culture over musical culture.
The referendum has not resolved my first problem. It would be constitutionally wrong to suggest that a pre-legislative referendum could settle the issue. It is right, as the reasoned amendment suggests, to look for a form of authority that combines the executive responsibility of a mayor with an assembly established from within the London boroughs.
It has been argued during the debate that it is impossible for those from the boroughs to have the necessary strategic view. That misses the point that, in any form of government, if a strategic view fails the test of acceptability and ownership for the local communities, it fails the test of good government.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) said that acceptance was one of the tests of good government. If the wider strategy is not accepted because the local interests that tend to be derided in this context are overridden in many areas, it fails the test of good government. Bringing the local interests—the many Londons—into the authority will produce a creative tension in the relationship between them and the mayor, combining the driving force and strategic vision that the directly elected mayor for London is intended to provide with the scrutiny and accountability of the boroughs.
The second issue is clarity of responsibilities and functions. Far from accepting the proposition of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) that the Bill will introduce responsibility and clarity, I suggest that the opposite is true. In place of a range of bodies with separate clear functions and relationships to boroughs and Government, the confusion that emanates from the Bill about whether Secretary of State will be making decisions will result in a lack of clarity on where responsibility lies.
Planning is a good example, which goes to the heart of setting strategies.
It is difficult to be clear about the relationships whereby a borough will establish its unitary development plan—at the behest of the so-called spatial development strategy. The mayor, in a way that seems to go beyond what is asked in other areas of regional planning guidance, will be able to declare the UDPs incompatible with the spatial development strategy. If the mayor and the authority have particular land use objectives that they want carried through into the UDPs, they can do it by that mechanism.
Over and above that, and highly confusingly, the mayor will be able to direct a borough to refuse an application. One wonders on what basis that is to be so. A borough should apply the UDP, as it is a plan-led system. If it does so in a way that will not be open to appeal or to call-in by the Secretary of State because of departure from the plan, why is the mayor being given that additional ability to go beyond the normal relationship of regional planning guidance to UDP? Far from getting clarity, we will get confusion.
The third issue is that the Bill exhibits characteristics that were rightly criticised in debates on the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1998. The Government seem to believe that the writing of constitutions can be accomplished substantially by suggesting what objectives should be met and then construing that the various bodies concerned will engage in constructive partnership for the achievement of those objectives. In practice, one has constitutions—just as one has to have contracts—to determine what happens when those partnerships and agreements fail.
There is some confusion here. For example, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) rightly talked about the importance of training and employment to economic development in London. That is central to bringing improvement into parts of inner London. In practice, of course, the economic development strategy that will be set by the London development agency will command the support of the business community only if greater business involvement is implied.
At the moment, business involvement—through consultation—is largely at the behest of the LDA, rather than the Bill mandating greater involvement from bodies that best represent business—for example, through the London Business Board. Unless that ownership is built into the process, any breach between the LDA and the business community will not be resolved. Likewise, there is a suggestion of partnership between the London training and enterprise councils and the economic development strategy, but no mechanism for making them come together. It is important that they do.
In a range of areas, it difficult to see how disagreements are to be resolved. The greatest disagreement could be between a mayor elected for four years on a platform with strategic vision—if a mayor does not bring strategic vision to the process, what else will he bring?—and the Government, who have their view of what should happen in London.
I will not bore the House by reciting them, but other hon. Members have rightly pointed out that the number of occasions when the Secretary of State will take the power to override, second-guess or effectively dictate the decisions of the mayor and the authority on a range of issues suggests that, when conflict arises, all the issues and all the answers will transfer to the Government rather than rest with the mayor and the authority.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned hypothecation of user charges to transport. Reference was made to public transport, but I hope that Ministers will refer to hypothecation to transport expenditure. I have two reservations.
First, as a representative of many people who will pay user charges in London but do not live there, I hope that user charges will not be used narrowly to benefit London public transport and transport infrastructure, without reference to the benefits of ensuring that it is easy to get in and out of London on public transport.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that large numbers of Londoners—including my constituents who live by the A12 to Essex and the east, and others who live by major roads into the city—suffer the consequences of pollution and associated problems such as noise? It must be just that Londoners should receive some compensation from people who live in leafy areas outside the city and cause environmental pollution when they travel into London.
The point of congestion or user charging is not to put money into the pockets of people who live next to the A12; the charges should be used to ensure that transport noise and pollution are reduced. That is what will benefit people who live by the A12; they should not personally benefit financially because they live in a polluted atmosphere.
No. I have taken up a lot of time, so I should come to a conclusion rather than take interventions.
In checking on the Government, people should consider not only hypothecation but additionality. I warn hon. Members that, if the Government are allowed to hypothecate user charges for transport purposes but simultaneously to reduce transport expenditure in the programme budget, the benefit will be negligible.
My hon. Friend must forgive me; I said that I would not take any more interventions, so I should be consistent.
The Bill has given rise to high expectations. The proposals for a directly elected mayor with a strategic vision for London are designed to encourage greater democratic participation, but I fear that the Government's intention comprehensively to establish the ascendancy of the Secretary of State over the mayor will frustrate that aim. Like my hon. Friends, I regret that the Bill will not directly involve the boroughs and allow them to bring their concerns to the forefront when the authority determines strategy. In these respects, in so far as the Bill is confused about responsibilities and where policy conflicts will be settled, it leaves much to be desired.
My credentials in this debate—apart from the fact that I represent Upminster on the edge of east London—are that I was born, brought up and educated in London and come from a family of Londoners. For the first 21 years of my working life, I was employed by the Port of London Authority and I saw the decline in the use of the River Thames and the enclosed docks. I experience, as most of us do, the terrible congestion that we have to put up with day in and day out on the roads, although most days I travel to the House on public transport.
My view on the political identity of London is somewhat different from those that have been expressed. Some of my constituents come from the original Essex towns and continue to see themselves as Essex people, but the vast majority of them moved out to the east from inner London and feel that they are Londoners. Harold Hill, for example, is an old Greater London council/London county council estate, and the people who live there see themselves as Londoners.
I have canvassed in Hall Lane and know it well. I feel reasonably well qualified to speak in this important debate because of my background and experience.
I wish to congratulate the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench colleagues on introducing the Bill so early in the second Session of this Parliament. In the 19 months since the general election, we have had the Green Paper, the White Paper, the referendum legislation, the referendum itself and now the Bill. That is good progress. The consultation period was important. When the Bill is enacted, its provisions will form an important part of the constitutional changes that will help us to modernise our country for the new millennium.
Clause 2(5) and schedule 1 indicate that the Secretary of State can have a radical review of the assembly's constituency boundaries, and the Bill makes it clear that that is an option for the Secretary of State. I am one of those hoping for a radical review sooner rather than later. I would have preferred multi-member constituencies on a sub-regional basis. That was emphasised in the Green Paper, but it did not receive enough debate London wide, as we focused on the constituency link—important though that is. London's sub-regional emphasis should be underlined, and I hope that, as the strategic authority develops, we will leave that open as an option for the future.
I made representations to the Local Government Commission when it was drawing up the constituency boundaries, and I know that other hon. Members made the same arguments. In my area, we share a health authority with Barking and Dagenham, and the transport structure of our area goes along the Thames parallel. It would have been far more suitable for the constituency boundaries to reflect those strategic views—albeit not on a totally sub-regional basis. However, that is another matter for the future. I recognise that the constituency boundaries were drawn as they were for convenience and speed.
I am a member of the all-party Thames gateway group, and we are working in partnership with the public sector. The Bill will allow partnerships to promote the sub-regions and to assist in the development of strategies, as well as economies. Bearing all that in mind, my borough of Havering would have been much better placed with Barking and Dagenham because of the links to which I have referred.
I welcome the package of electoral voting methods—by the supplementary vote system for the mayor, and by the first-past-the-post system and the additional member system on the d'Hondt formula for the assembly. I had difficulty reading schedule 2 of the Bill, and I had to read it several times before I was able to understand it. I was certainly relieved to see the explanatory notes.
The principle of closed lists has been discussed many times in this House and in another place during the consideration of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. I sat through some of those debates, but did not contribute to them. Opposition Members often made accusations to the effect that few Labour Back Benchers supported the Government. They did, of course, support the Government in the Lobby.
There are advantages to closed lists. In democratic terms, it is for the political parties to decide on the pecking order of the lists. Political parties that do not allow their own internal democracies to flourish and do not encourage wider member participation will do themselves no good, and eventually will suffer. My party benefited from changing its internal rules for electing candidates. The Conservative party has suffered because it did not—although it has changed, belatedly. Those, however, are matters for the parties and not for Parliament.
The closed list will be simple. All candidates in the list will be named and the electorate will know whom they are voting for—contrary to press reports during the European Parliamentary Elections Bill debates. There was a popular misconception that people would not know who the candidates were. Most of the electorate vote for the party of their choice as well as for the candidate.
I am absolutely certain that, for example, in local elections, some of the electorate voting in multi-member wards do not fully understand the system and often mistakenly vote for the wrong candidate. My experience in local election counts over the years is that, quite often, the candidate for a particular party whose surname starts with an "A" is likely to get more votes than those with names that start with letters further down the alphabet. A closed-list system would avoid that.
I have never understood the justification for that argument. Is the hon. Gentleman honestly telling us that it is better for the electorate to have no say as to which of the Labour party candidates they would prefer to elect, and to have to accept the list that is presented to them?
One has to consider the provisions as a package. I would argue that, for the GLA, as a strategic authority, and for the European elections, it is acceptable to have a party list, bearing in mind the fact that people are not excluded from voting for candidates in local and parliamentary elections. When people vote in a closed-list system, they will know who the candidates in the party list are.
How can one express the judgment that one likes one of the party's candidates but not another? Voters may be disfranchised because they decide to vote for nobody rather than accepting as a package a list of people some of whom they would be happy to see elected but with one of whom they fundamentally disagree, regardless of party allegiance.
Some members of the electorate may take that view, but as the hon. Gentleman himself said earlier, there is no ideal system, and I believe that, on balance, we have to accept that weakness.
The electorate will have a package of democratic representatives. It is important to distinguish the strategic role that the GLA will play. As with the European elections, and bearing in mind the fact that people will have ward councillors and Members of Parliament who fit into the democratic process, I see no wrong in the system. With the benefit of proportional representation, more votes will count and a new dynamic will be released in our political life.
I am pleased that clause 25 provides for the authority to promote the health of Londoners as well as promoting economic and social development in Greater London. Clause 27 is an important safeguard, in that the mayor will not be able to do anything that will duplicate the statutory functions of Transport for London, the police and fire authorities or the London development agency. Subsection (9) will allow the mayor to use the powers under the clause to co-operate with other public bodies to co-ordinate and facilitate activities on a wider than local basis.
Clause 33 provides for the mayor's strategies. There will be no shortage of strategies on matters such as transport, economic development and regeneration, biodiversity, municipal waste management, air quality, ambient noise, culture, the health of London, and something close to my own heart: promoting the use of the Thames for passenger transport and freight.
The transport strategy in clause 123 and the transport functions of the authority covered in clauses 122 to 201 are of the utmost importance and priority, and a London Evening Standard poll recently showed transport to be a priority of Londoners. Clauses 200 and 201 are probably the most radical, providing as they will a framework within the GLA for the introduction of road charging schemes and non-residential parking levies across all or part of London.
Several Conservative Members have suggested that those powers were not emphasised in the lead-up to the referendum. However, they will be an important feature in the lead-up to the elections in May next year. If mayoral candidates do not want to use those powers, they can stand on that platform and give Londoners an opportunity to decide on that basis. It is a false argument to say that the powers, which were mentioned in the White Paper, should have received greater emphasis during the referendum debate.
I welcome the ability that the boroughs will have to introduce parking schemes in their areas, subject to the agreement of the mayor. It is essential to ensure the hypothecation of the net revenues from those charges and levies for spending on a wide range of transport measures, in support of the mayor's integrated transport strategy. A clean, safe, efficient and reasonably priced public transport system for London is crucial, because otherwise congestion will worsen, the health of Londoners will suffer, the Londonwide economy will suffer and regeneration will be more difficult to achieve.
Transport is the key to a better London. Whatever strategy the mayor puts forward, it will be difficult to sustain and develop without an improvement in public transport. Londoners see transport as a priority for the mayor and GLA, when elected.
I have a background in the Port of London Authority and I am especially interested in promoting the use of the Thames, which is an under-used asset. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) said, the decision by Westminster council to transport waste by road rather than by barge along the river was disgraceful. The mayor and the GLA will have an important opportunity to develop a meaningful strategy to ensure that more freight is transported by water-borne modes of transport. More passenger use should also be made of the river, especially through a river bus scheme. Experiments have been carried out in the past, but they have not been successful because of the poor integration of the schemes with other forms of transport. The experimental schemes also did not extend beyond the centre of London, but river buses should be extended to the east and west to encourage greater use. The mayor and the GLA will be able to insist that integrated transport links include river bus stops.
The Bill deserves the support of the House and it has the support of Londoners. The Members of Parliament who will scrutinise the Bill in Committee will have an important role to play to ensure that it becomes good law and that the mayor and the GLA work effectively. The principles of the Bill are sound and welcome, and the sooner it is enacted the better. I support the Bill's Second Reading and commend it to the House.
I apologise to the House for having had to leave the Chamber for about two and a half hours earlier to fulfil an engagement that I could not reasonably have postponed. I managed to hear the opening speeches made by the Deputy Prime Minister, by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) and by the hon. Members for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is flagged up in the Evening Standard tonight as having said in his speech that he would be another candidate for mayor, although he seemed to me to suggest that he would be a candidate for the assembly. Whichever interpretation of his remarks is correct, I welcome the gathering number of candidates for mayor. The more, the merrier. If the hon. Member for Brent, East stands in addition to an official Labour candidate, I shall be delighted. To have Conservative, Liberal Democrat and independent candidates standing would be excellent for London.
I congratulate the Minister for London and Construction, who has a great interest in these matters, on the two schemes—they have been advertised in the Evening Standard—for a new building to house the assembly and the mayor at Camden or on the riverside. Each, in its totally contrasting way, is excellent. One makes use of an existing building, and the other would create a new building by Norman Foster. The latter, in particular, is brilliant in conception, but I believe that we would be mistaken to give the assembly a new building to play with at enormous cost to the London public.
The old Greater London council buildings still exist, and I understand that the chamber and associated offices are not used. It was a splendid place for the old London assembly, and I do not see why the building cannot be used for the new one, rather than our going to the trouble and expense of constructing or renovating another building. I like the proposed buildings, but some cautious cost effectiveness would not go amiss.
The hon. Gentleman's argument would have a little more force if his party had not, when in power, decided to change the use of the building so that it is now a place in which fish swim rather than one in which politicians debate.
All human life is there, no doubt. The old building contains a hotel and an excellent Chinese restaurant that is occasionally visited by hon. Members. I cannot see why the assembly and the mayor cannot use the premises, which are excellent and well known. The option should be considered, and, although I put the point light heartedly, I hope that the Minister will know that I mean it.
The hon. Member for Brent, East said that one of the worst and most immediate problems facing any mayor or assembly elected to run London would be traffic congestion. That is indeed the case. It can take two hours to get from central London to Orpington, which is on the very edge of the old GLC area. It can take that time between 4 pm and 6 pm, and it seems to be no quicker no matter what evening it is. Friday and Monday are the same.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) came down to speak last week, but he had the good sense to go by train from Victoria to Bromley South, which took him between a quarter of an hour and 20 minutes. That is the daily contrast in London between travelling by car—rather foolishly if one is going from Orpington to central London—and going by public transport.
The Bill contains the idea tried elsewhere in the world of a congestion tax or user tax, to be combined with a car-parking tax. That is an idea whose time may have come, but there are severe difficulties. First, obviously, the ordinary motorist may feel that unless he gets something out of the proposal, it will simply be yet another tax—and a considerable one at that. Already, the motorist pays about £31 billion a year in taxes, but only about a fifth of that goes back to him in transport spending. The Exchequer's total take from an average litre of unleaded petrol is about 78 per cent. The amount has gone up and up under Conservative and Labour Governments because of the fuel price escalator. It is a huge burden on motorists, and we must consider what they get back from it.
We will have to get used to the idea of green taxes. If we are to get the idea across and make it work, it is vital that the motorist, who is being taxed and inconvenienced, can see some compensating, clear advantage as a result of the extra imposition.
That means ring fencing of the money that will be raised through the two additional imposts. These days, there is much talk of hypothecation, which is a controversial idea, but one that has a long history. I think that the ship money was the first example of a hypothecated tax in this country. Levied in the 17th century by Charles I, it was one of the factors that led to the civil war, so such taxes are not without their political dangers. Another example was the road fund tax, which was memorable for being lost without trace about five years after it was introduced. The history of hypothecated taxes is not a good one, however good the intentions behind them may have been.
On reading the Bill more closely—it is a very long Bill—I was alarmed to find that schedules 14 and 15 would give the Secretary of State clear powers to take a portion of the proceeds from those taxes. He would have to hand them over to the Consolidated Fund, there is no question about that.
I am grateful for the encouragement that the hon. Gentleman has given the idea of congestion charging. As Chairman of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, it is only right and proper that he should do so. He highlighted some of the difficulties that the mayor and the assembly will have to tackle. I reiterate yet again that congestion charges will be spent in their entirety on the mayor's integrated transport strategy. If they are raised in the boroughs, they will be spent there. There is a clear commitment—and so there should be, as we are talking about raising sizeable amounts of money—that the system should be reviewed after 10 years. If funds are no longer required for the integrated transport strategy because public transport has improved so much, congestion is down and the air is cleaner, it is entirely right and proper that moneys that are not being used in that way should go into the Consolidated Fund.
I hear what the hon. Lady is saying and I clearly heard the Deputy Prime Minister briefly reiterate in his speech that, for 10 years, 100 per cent. of the proceeds of the taxes will be spent on transport, which I welcome. It is a new commitment—unless it has been said before and I missed it—and I welcome the fact that it was either reiterated or declared tonight. The worrying aspect is that it is one thing for Ministers to say that on a Monday evening in this debate, but it is another for it to be in the Bill. The fact of the matter is that schedules 14 and 15 of the Bill contain powers—I see the Minister for Transport in London smiling, but she knows that they are there—that a future Government could use for different purposes.
We have all heard that concern reiterated by more than one hon. Member tonight. Ministers have made a clear commitment—and not only this afternoon and this evening—as to where the moneys raised from congestion charging will be spent. We will take notice of what has been said about the two schedules to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
I am glad that the Minister will take notice of what has been said, but it is an important point. As the hon. Lady said, as Chairman of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, I am committed to try to do something sensible on all these problems. It is vital that we win over the public. At the moment, they are extremely sceptical, if not cynical, about the extra taxation. They will regard it merely as an extra impost, unless they can see some tangible benefit from it, which will be hard for the Government to achieve, however it is spent.
It is not merely a question of the money being ring-fenced, ear-marked or hypothecated—whatever the term that one wants to use—as the second point is that it must be additional, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) said, among others. It is not good enough for it simply to be hypothecated; it must be additional expenditure, otherwise the whole point will be completely lost. If we find at some subsequent date, despite the Minister's bold remarks this evening and those of the Deputy Prime Minister, that some funds are removed, beneath the table as it were, or that in some future settlement they say that they have lost a hard battle with the Treasury—they usually do—Londoners will not thank them for that approach.
I hope that the Government can demonstrate that additionality is for 10 years, just as they say that hypothecation is. It will take at least 10 years to make an impact on transport congestion. The Automobile Association has demanded not only hypothecation and additionality but that the proceeds should be seen to be spent before they are raised. I thought that that was a little over the top and I do not go along with that, but I take the point.
Such taxation can begin to tackle some of the problems by deterring and helping to manage traffic, and building infrastructure in a different way. Planning can also do much. In that respect, 1 strongly support the Deputy Prime Minister's initiative under the general label of World Squares for All. He came out strongly in favour of proposals, again by Norman Foster, to enhance Trafalgar square, Whitehall and Parliament square by pedestrianising larger parts of them. That will affect traffic, but the matter is important to London as a capital city. This is a major heritage area, not only for Londoners, but for the whole country and for tourists. We want to be proud of it. We want its buildings, including our Parliament, set off properly. Currently, Trafalgar square is a traffic roundabout, which is disastrous for people trying to enjoy their surroundings.
The Deputy Prime Minister made a strong statement. I hope that he does not allow it to be whittled away by all the usual excuses about where the traffic goes. We have to choose between doing something dramatic and sensible that I believe would be applauded by all Londoners and some bad consequences in slightly more traffic congestion. We simply have to live with that. I suspect that if something sensible were done, people would quickly come to terms with it, other arrangements would be made and the congestion would not be as bad as many fear. I hope that the mayor, whoever he or she is, takes up such initiatives and puts pressure on the Government to see them through. I hope that that will be the sort of benefit that people can see from having a strong mayor.
Penultimately, I turn to the police. I do not expect a reply this evening because the matter will be debated tomorrow. If hon. Members watch "The Bill"—one of my favourite programmes—this Christmas, they will see that Orpington high street is featured. I am delighted by that because it seems that the only way that one can get publicity for one's high street is when it features in a sit-com or television series. Sadly, there is a different reality because there was recently a murder and two major burglaries in the high street. That emphasises that even in the leafy suburbs crime problems worry residents, as all hon. Members know.
The Government and the Home Secretary have said many tough things in their manifesto and subsequently, including the famous soundbite,
Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.
The reality is very different. Resources are being cut and do not meet the demands of the police. As a consequence, in my area 10 constables' jobs have been cut this financial year. As a result of a settlement made only a week or so ago, another 10 will go next year. Two police stations, at Chislehurst and Biggin Hill, will be closed down. The Conservative Government opened a new police station at St. Mary Cray. The Government are not delivering on law and order in terms of having people on the street, reassuring the public that people are looking after the problem.
There are problems of vandalism and petty crime in my area, even though we usually avoid the big burglaries and more serious crimes that often afflict central London. I hope that the Bill can address such issues. Will it be possible for the mayor and assembly to vire—I believe that that is the technical phrase—resources from one part of the budget to another if they feel that law and order issues deserve a higher priority than they have at present? I certainly hope so.
As is probably clear to the House, I support some of the basic concepts behind the Bill. I always thought that London should have a strong voice and recognised that a mayor had the potential to embody that voice. It is important that he or she does that. However, yet again, as with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, the Government have started a process without marking out a finish. Therefore, the structure that the Bill would establish is unnecessarily cumbersome and messy, and I suspect that it will be unnecessarily costly as well.
I represent an area that is on the very fringe of London—Orpington hardly considers itself part of London at all; in fact, it would rather be part of Kent, even if that meant that the people could not vote for a London mayor. To persuade such people of the value and the importance of the authority is extremely difficult. I wish that the Government had taken on board more of the commonsense, down-to-earth criticisms of the proposals that were voiced by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It would have been better had the Government's proposals been more modest and less expensive, while still giving Londoners an authority that could do the job for London that we want a mayor to do.
It is interesting to follow the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam). I shall not dwell on the past, but it is interesting to note that the previous Government, having abolished the Greater London council, had a long time in which to come up with an alternative, perhaps of the sort that the hon. Gentleman now advocates, but that no such proposal was seen until 1997, when the Labour Government were elected with their pledge to bring back a strategic authority for London.
I was born in London, in the borough of Redbridge—an area slightly more inner than the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill). I am pleased to represent Ilford and see myself as both a man of Essex—not an Essex man—and a Londoner. I believe strongly that London has to have a voice, not only as a capital city, but as an international city, one of the four or five great cities of the world in terms of its attractiveness to investors and tourists, its cultural diversity and its museums and galleries. Look at the number of people who have come from all over the world, fleeing from persecution, racism, anti-semitism and poverty, to live in London and make it one of the world's great cities.
It is an absolute disgrace that we have gone so many years without having a voice or an effective means of representation in Brussels that would enable us to get much-needed resources to London. I welcome the Bill, because it goes a considerable way towards addressing the democratic deficit that we in London have had for the past 12 years, although certain aspects could be improved. What is most important is that, at last, we have the opportunity to debate the Bill. Perhaps the media will now get away from their personality obsession with the self-publicists who publish articles and give speeches about what they will or will not do; perhaps they will now take a look at the needs of London and at the Bill.
I say that as one who has no intention whatsoever of standing as a candidate for the assembly or for mayor. However, I want to continue to represent my constituents in this place and I believe strongly that it is time that the country and the inner-London media ended their obsession with personalities and started to examine the content of the legislation that will pass through Parliament in the next few months, which aims to improve the quality of life of Londoners and address the issues that concern them.
Other hon. Members have already referred to those issues. The organisation London First, which was established to fill the gap left by the abolition of the GLC, published a briefing for Members of Parliament. I was interested to note its reference to the fact that London produces 15 per cent. of the nation's gross domestic product and contributes £14 billion a year to other parts of the country. That contribution is right if other parts of the country are poorer and we have a formula for allocating funds.
However, the briefing also points out that 13 of the 20 poorest local authority areas in the country are in London. My local authority is not one of the 13, but my constituency nevertheless contains severe pockets of deprivation, high levels of unemployment and serious social problems that are not recognised generally by the country as a whole. Unemployment levels in many London constituencies are significantly above the national average, yet other parts of the country regard this area as the wealthy south-east. I have heard people denounce what they call "capitalism" in London—and they are not talking about an economic system. It is about time that the whole United Kingdom appreciated the fact that areas of London can be as poor as parts of east Belfast, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Sheffield or any other area that is represented in the House.
There are 289,000 unemployed in London at present, which is more than the totals for Scotland and Wales combined. That is very worrying as we know that the global economic crisis emanating from south Asia has disproportionate consequences for my constituents and many others who work in central London in financial and banking institutions, in insurance and in the information technology industry, which is so important to this city and to the country's economy.
The London Research Centre recently produced an important transport study of four world cities: Paris, New York, Tokyo and London. It concluded:
Overcrowding is an endemic problem on London's rail and underground. Lack of funding has postponed schemes, such as Crossrail, designed to alleviate central area congestion and reduce the need for interchange.
I am pleased to see that the Minister for Transport in London is in the Chamber. She will recall that I have been pushing crossrail's case in the House for the past 18 months. I represent the constituency of Ilford and I believe that crossrail from Stratford to Paddington would benefit greatly east-west communication across the city and prevent many of the interchange journeys and delays that make travelling difficult for so many people.
Reference has been made to the recent report in the Evening Standard about the King's Fund study, which found that Londoners were pessimistic about the health of their city. That poll revealed the priorities for change that Londoners believe a London mayor must adopt upon his election. It found that nine out of 10 Londoners believe that environmental issues are a priority, with some 57 per cent. voting for reductions in traffic, 50 per cent. for improved air quality, 27 per cent. for cleaner streets and 23 per cent. voting for improved housing.
The London authority will not have responsibility for housing; that will remain with the boroughs. That is right, but we need to consider the problems in the outer London boroughs. When I was first elected to the House, six and a half years ago, people were being placed in temporary accommodation in my borough, Redbridge, by authorities such as Westminster in central London, or Hackney and Newham in east London, because they had housing shortages. There is now a general housing problem in Redbridge and my council has 200 families in bed and breakfast accommodation and is even placing people in Clacton, Southend and Westcliff-on-Sea. That is not good for the families or the children's education. We cannot easily deal with that on a borough-wide basis; we need strategic action to deal with London's serious housing problems, particularly cost.
One of London's problems—I am pleased that this is the subject of another Bill—is that it has borne a disproportionate burden of coping with the increased number of asylum applicants in recent years. I understand that about 40,000 destitute asylum seekers are being supported by London boroughs. That is not only a question of financial support; there are problems of pressures on education, social services and, again, housing.
That is important in this House and in all democratic parties in this country because unscrupulous populists and extremists might try to seize on the issue to gain support in elections for the assembly and the mayor. For that reason, I strongly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who spoke earlier. I believe that a 5 per cent. threshold for votes for the assembly is essential because I do not want fascist and neo-Nazi candidates to gain a foothold among the 25 places in the assembly. A 5 per cent. threshold will act as an important impediment to the development of fascist organisations in London, so it must be included in the Bill.
For similar reasons, the electoral system chosen for the mayor should be strongly supported. The advantage of the supplementary vote is that in an election that will be contested by a huge number of candidates—some serious, some not so serious, some joke candidates and some people with a single-issue agenda—it is conceivable that we could have 20, 30, 50 or 100 candidates vying for the publicity of such a high-profile role. In those circumstances, it would be extremely dangerous to have a first-past-the-post electoral system because we could end up with a victor such as those in Latin America, Georgia or other countries where articulate populists from the media circuses or extremist political groups have succeeded. The Conservative party would not gain enough votes to be in one of those categories. In a first-past-the-post election with many candidates, someone could creep to victory with a low vote, so the supplementary vote is an important democratic safeguard.
I have already mentioned the city's problems. The new transport authority for London will play an important co-ordinating role. The organisation that will be established to provide for the first time in our city a democratic accountability for the police service is long overdue. I am glad that the body is welcomed by the Metropolitan police because that demonstrates that they are forward thinking and that they believe in extending throughout the city the partnership that has been so well established with many boroughs. That is all to the good.
Many members of the assembly will spend a considerable time serving on the police authority; others will serve on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. For that reason, I am delighted that, in making changes between the White Paper and the Bill, Ministers have taken account of what many of us said and have decided that members should be paid. If we are to have a proper, effective and democratically functioning London authority, we need serious people with the time and commitment to do the job. It would be patently absurd if members of the Welsh Assembly received payment whereas members of the London authority did not. We have taken a step in the right direction, which is to be welcomed.
It is important that the Bill contains safeguards in respect of the mayor's accountability to the authority. The two-thirds majority provision with regard to the budget is welcome, but I hope that in Committee, we can re-examine other aspects of accountability to provide reassurance that should something go wrong, for whatever reason, and should an authoritarian or idiosyncratic person be elected as mayor, there would be no difficulty in applying the appropriate checks and balances.
We also need to make it clear in the election campaign that the Greater London authority is not GLC mark II. It is a new body; everyone knows that it is a new body, and the structures have been established to ensure that it is a new body. One of the most important is that the leader of the GLA will, in public parlance, be the democratically elected mayor. That person will have a popular mandate. It will, therefore, be impossible for anyone to come to a position of power by virtue of a change in the balance within a party group. It is very important that the public are aware of that democratic commitment and the need for a high turnout and maximum involvement in the election.
The proposals in clause 39 for a state of London address and the people's question time are an important part of the mayor's accountability. Perhaps the dome could be used for such events after the millennium.
I am also pleased that the Bill sets out a procedure whereby the deputy mayor will be appointed from among the elected members of the assembly. That is an important safeguard in the relationship between the mayor and the assembly. It will ensure that the mayor has to be sensitive to the politics of the assembly and its members.
I am interested to hear the reasons that the hon. Gentleman will give for not allowing the assembly to choose the deputy mayor. What reasons will he give for allowing the mayor to have, in addition to all his other powers, the power to be in fact very insensitive to the assembly, and to choose someone of her or his preference, irrespective of the views of the assembly and, indeed, arguably, exactly contrary to the assembly's wishes?
That issue can be explored in some detail in Committee. I do not have time to go into it now, but the important point is that an electoral system has been established whereby no single party is likely to have an overall majority in the assembly. For that reason, it will be important for the mayor to work constructively with at least two, and possibly all three or four, of the parties that have members elected to the assembly.
Two further points need greater consideration. One is the mayor's duty to consult the assembly. I do not think that it is spelt out clearly in the Bill, and I hope that it will be further considered in Committee.
Tourism is a very important part of the future development of London. Further consideration could be given to how the Greater London authority might tap some of the great revenue from tourism, which adds to congestion on our public transport and demands on services, and offset it against other needs. Other worldwide cities are capable of that in one way or another, and we in London should consider it, too.
I very much welcome the Bill. I hope that, now there is support on both sides of the House for at least the principle of establishing democratic government in London, all parties will work together to try to ensure that it is a great success. On that basis, this city will receive the level and quality of government that it deserves.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in today's Second Reading debate, which marks the Government's commitment to honouring the key election pledge to set up a strategic authority for the capital and establish the post of mayor of London. I shall highlight several points in the Bill that concern transport arrangements. I should like first to welcome the functions proposed for Transport for London, as set out in clause 122.
The concept of integrating the consideration and provision of transport issues has already been taken up by the London boroughs through the formation of the Transport Committee for London. That committee, founded in January, has brought together several functions which were previously carried out by the boroughs on a Londonwide basis. The functions include parking enforcement issues and the provision of the parking appeals service, which were previously the responsibility of the Parking Committee for London; concessionary fares and the provision of door-to-door transport, which were previously the responsibility of the London Committee on Accessible Transport; the operation of London's night-time and weekend lorry ban, which was previously the responsibility of the London Boroughs Transport Committee; and the operation of London's traffic signals and traffic controls, which was previously the responsibility of the traffic controls system unit. The Transport Committee for London has already started to make changes to integrate some of the functions in order to make services more efficient and effective for Londoners. All the functions are directly relevant to the Bill.
Following the passage of the Road Traffic Act 1991, the development of parking controls and decriminalised parking enforcement has been one of the success stories in London boroughs. Since implementation of the Act in 1994 by individual boroughs and through their joint committee—now the Transport Committee for London—great improvements have been made over previous levels of enforcement and compliance with regulations, although the need for such enforcement, especially in bus lanes and on bus routes, remains a problem. I hope that the new arrangements will make progress on it.
Following enactment of the Bill, it is critical that the Greater London authority, through Transport for London, takes responsibility for parking enforcement on the new road network. I should be surprised if the mayor did not wish to use the new decriminalised form of enforcement which has worked so well in London.
The Transport Committee for London operates the parking appeals service, which has replaced the magistrates courts in considering appeals against decriminalised parking tickets. Comments in the press and a recent survey of appellants by Birmingham university have highlighted a great deal of satisfaction with the service. It would make no sense at all to set up a separate appeals body for enforcement on GLA roads. I am therefore pleased that it is intended in the Bill that the parking appeals service should continue to offer unified provision for the capital. Clause 193 achieves that by making Transport for London a member of the Transport Committee for London.
The Transport Committee for London comprises one elected member from each of the 33 London boroughs. It is therefore a little surprising that it is proposed that the body Transport for London, rather than a elected member of the assembly, is to be a member of the joint committee. The inclusion on the committee of members from each borough provides a high degree of accountability, which has been vital in ensuring that the new parking enforcement system works effectively. A representative of Transport for London would be an official with very indirect levels of accountability and, in order to ensure that the services provided continue to allow good enforcement with public acceptability, accountability is essential. In those circumstances, I urge the Government to consider the possibility of the mayor appointing an elected member of the authority—instead of an official—to the Transport Committee for London, to ensure continued accountability.
Clause 186 allows the Secretary of State to make regulation concerning concessionary fares in London. The concessionary fares system for elderly and disabled people in London provided by the London boroughs through the Transport Committee for London is currently the best in the country, providing free travel on all forms of public transport throughout Greater London after 9 am—or 9.30 am on the national railways.
That scheme was established by the GLC more than 20 years ago, initially as an off-peak free travel service on the buses, and extended in the 1980s to provide a half-fare scheme—and later a free scheme—on the London underground and a half-fare scheme on national railways within the capital. Since the scheme was taken over by the London boroughs in 1986, it has been extended to provide free travel on national railways within London—giving equality to those in south London, where there is no tube—and to cover the evening peak hours. It costs about £140 million a year.
However, the scheme is vulnerable. It must proceed on the basis of unanimity among all the boroughs, and it needs only one London borough to fail to agree with any part of the scheme to bring it down. Several times in recent years, one or two authorities—I shall not name them—have tried to blackmail the rest of the London boroughs, leading to great confusion and considerable uncertainty. For that reason, it was necessary to legislate to establish a reserve scheme, so that if, by 31 December of any year, London Transport felt that there was not agreement between the boroughs, it could institute that reserve scheme.
However, the reserve scheme is much less attractive for all the parties involved except London Transport, because it provides the benefits only of the scheme as it existed in 1984. It provides no concession on national railways, and only a half-fare scheme on London Underground. Ironically, because London Underground could set that reserve scheme into motion without negotiation, it would also be able to charge more than the current voluntary arrangement through the concessionary fares scheme.
The Secretary of State might wish to consider using regulations to safeguard the existing scheme for all parties. There could be a formal duty on all the London boroughs to agree the concessionary fares scheme. That could be done by bringing it into the statutory remit of the Transport Committee for London, as all boroughs are at present required to be members of the committee. That would prevent one borough trying to blackmail the other boroughs, and holding the scheme up for ransom. Such a change would be warmly welcomed by organisations representing elderly people and people with disabilities.
The London night-time and weekend lorry ban is a further responsibility that the London boroughs inherited following the abolition of the GLC. It provides an enforceable way in which only lorries with legitimate business in London may use all but the most important roads in London at night-time and at weekends. It has provided substantial noise relief for many thousands of London residents who live alongside roads previously heavily used by juggernauts at night. In two cases, Graham road in Hackney—an especially narrow residential road—and Cheyne walk in Chelsea, the flow of heavy lorries, which was previously as heavy as 600 per hour in the 3 am to 5 am period, has been cut to a tenth of that figure, to the enormous relief of all the residents involved. The ban achieves those results without a great imposition on the freight industry, which is now on record as supporting the continuation of the ban and agreeing that there is a need to support the ban.
Following the abolition of the GLC in 1986, not all the boroughs participated in the scheme, and at one point 19 boroughs successfully kept the scheme alive. They deserve congratulation on having done so, in the face of strong opposition from some Ministers in the previous Government, who should have known better.
The formation of the Transport Committee for London has changed matters. All boroughs are now agreed in principle to support the scheme, with most actively involved, and by next April all boroughs are expected to be fully involved. We should congratulate the Transport Committee for London and the individual boroughs on supporting the ban.
That participation has led to changes in the network of excluded routes—on which any lorry may travel—being reviewed for the first time since 1984, and consideration of more flexible operation of permit conditions, and of better enforcement using new camera techniques and new technology. Those changes are being supported by the freight industry. Although it was antagonistic when the ban was first introduced, it is now on record as supporting the needs that lie behind the scheme, the review and the extension of the ban. It is a function that could be made a statutory duty on the Transport Committee for London. My right hon. Friend might like to include that duty in the Bill. That would ensure the stability of the scheme and allow it to work properly within the context of the mayor's freight transport strategy.
At this time of night I shall not detain the House any longer. I welcome the Bill and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues on all their hard work. 1 heartily welcome all the proposals that are contained in the Bill.
I am doubly grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in the debate. First, I must apologise to the House for not being in my place for the opening speeches. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction will accept that that was due to the fact that I was fulfilling a long-standing speaking engagement on his Green Paper on leasehold reform. Secondly, like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my accent betrays the fact that unlike many of my hon. Friends who have contributed to the debate, as well as other colleagues, I am not a native Londoner, although I speak for my constituency of Brent, North.
I am proud to represent my constituents, who live in the most ethnically diverse borough in Europe. One of the essential features of London is that diversity. In effect, London is a collection of villages which have, over time, expanded to fill the spaces between them. It is that that makes Kilburn different from Kensington and Willesden different from Westminster. I welcome that diversity and individuality which make for the richness of the city's life, but such diversity can lead to a lack of strategic thought and it is that lack of strategic thought which I believe has characterised the governance of London for the past decade. The Bill will ensure that that strategic thought is restored for the somewhat meagre cost of 3p a week per person, or £1.56 per Londoner a year. For strategic thought, £1.56 is a jolly good price to pay.
Many Members have spoken of the need for a co-ordinated transport policy. I concur with their pleas for a joined-up approach, for joined-up major routes and joined-up cycle routes that do not fizzle out at borough borders. Many Members have spoken of the need also for the London development agency to promote a strategic plan as detailed in clause 204.
I wish to emphasise that these functions of the Greater London authority are not separate. They contribute to the essential purpose of the Bill as expressed in clause 25, which is promoting economic and social development in Greater London and improving the environment.
I offer Brent as a perfect example of both the lack of strategic thought and the need to combine the powers of the LDA with the London transport authority. Such a strategic overview is essential to the economic development of our city. I can encapsulate the issue in one word: Wembley.
In the 1920s, the empire exhibition was held in the borough of Wembley. A community developed based on the economic drive that the empire exhibition created. The foundation of Wembley stadium gave another heart beating at the centre of the economic community. It was well placed for transport links, near to the London ring road and the start of the M1. Sadly, such harmony of planning, transport infrastructure and economic drive is not in evidence for the new national stadium proposals at Wembley.
Wembley Park station, which takes 55 per cent. of public access to the stadium, is decrepit. The police have to close it from time to time because it represents a danger to those using it. I cannot say that the construction of a new access way for visitors coming to Wembley is even half finished, because it is not even half started. Yet we are looking to Wembley to be our new national stadium and the centrepiece of our 2006 World cup bid.
Wembley Central station bears 18 per cent. of those coming to the stadium, but it is more reminiscent of a 1920s—
Order. I know that Second Reading debates can go somewhat wide of the mark, but the hon. Gentleman must talk about the government of London rather than a specific project.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall try to bring my remarks to the point that I want to make about the Bill. No hon. Member from London or outside would deny that a project such as Wembley is of huge strategic importance to the whole of north-west London, but that project cannot get off the ground unless the elements of the transport infrastructure are brought into harmony with the London development agency's dealings with the surrounding industrial estate. There is no point in having a jewel set in the midst of a midden. That is how developments at Wembley should have been carried out, but the strategic thought that the Bill will apply to the whole of London was lacking. It has not been possible to effect that major project with the oversight that the new London authority will be able to give.
I am delighted that clause 202 stipulates that at least half the members of the London development agency must have experience of running a business—or at least they must appear to the mayor to have such experience. In thinking strategically, we must look to how we can get the driving focus of business and the local economy to take forward major infrastructure projects. I welcome that clause.
I could not properly represent my borough of Brent without mentioning the Metropolitan police authority proposals. Brent is the most multi-ethnic borough in the country and, indeed, in Europe. Yesterday evening, a young Asian man in my constituency told me with great force that the Stephen Lawrence inquiry was the best thing that the Labour Government have done in 18 months. To be entirely honest, he said that it was the only decent thing that they had done. I remonstrated with the man on that point, but his remark about the inquiry was made forcefully, and I should like to welcome with equal force the proposals for the Metropolitan police authority, which mean that we are seeing a new democratic structure. I trust that it will bring transparency and accountability to policing in London, which many of my constituents will welcome most heartily. I welcome the Bill and wish it all speed.
First, I apologise for being absent from the Chamber for a couple of hours. I had forewarned the Speaker's Office. Secondly, without being tempted to go down the same road or to receive the same admonition as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner), I agree with much of what he said about the development at Wembley and the absence of a strategic dimension. I am a north-west London Member of Parliament, and the direction in which that development goes will have serious ramifications for my constituents as well.
Conservative Members, not least the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), were utterly wrong earlier in the debate—on London transport, London Underground and congestion charges. It is a shame that she is not present, but it struck me that she had not read, or had entirely misinterpreted, the transport section of the Bill. That is a matter of profound regret, given the Bill's importance, which was highlighted admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman).
The reasoned amendment tells us—more by exhortation than any substance—that 33 London borough leaders and a directly elected mayor are what is required. No evidence is offered to prove it, and there is no reasoned analysis of why that should be the case, just: "It's there because it's there. That's our amendment, so that's what it should be." I hope that that will be elaborated on.
The amendment also tells us that the Bill is about the diminution of London boroughs, but no evidence is offered. Most of the debate I have heard suggested nothing about diminution of their powers. I repeat what I said on Second Reading of the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Act 1998 and when the White Paper was published: the measure reinforces the democratic parts of the post-GLC settlement far more readily than anything suggested in the reasoned amendment or in what I have heard from Conservative Members.
Neither is the Bill—this is suggested by mantra rather than by any point of substance—a recipe for disaster because of the relationship between the Greater London authority, the boroughs and the mayor.
If that was the kernel and substance of the hon. Gentleman's speech, I am rather pleased that I missed it. The debate is not about a GLC mark II and what was, by any definition, a hybrid between a glorified council and a glorified regional body. As I shall continue to say, the debate looks forward to a settlement on London's governance for the new millennium. I say with all due respect to the hon. Gentleman that we should not hark back to old stories, whether in English, Serbo-Croat or any other language. The Bill moves us on from Baroness Thatcher's spiteful vandalism in 1986.
We—by which I mean London; I am not speaking in a partisan way—need vision and leadership for the millennium and beyond; we need not historical throwbacks to the mid-1980s, but a new, modernised and reinvigorated leadership and vision to take London, our city, into the next century. The Bill provides a voice and a government for our London in the 21st century.
I shall dwell briefly on some of the Bill's key points, although I hasten to add that, even at this hour, I am using my definition of briefly, not anyone else's. I said on Second Reading of the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill that London's future prosperity and success would depend on the way in which the new architecture of governance for London worked. That remains the case. However large this Bill is, it cannot legislate for and foresee the shape of and the basic relationships between all aspects of the new governance of London in 10 or 15 years. Anyone who thinks that the Bill can or should do that has little understanding of the modern world.
The relationship between the mayor, the Greater London authority and the boroughs is crucial. By definition, the new architecture of governance for London will evolve and grow. The strategic powers in the Bill will mean that we are not creating a reincarnated GLC. That is not to say that the GLC was dreadful, and that we do not want to reinvent it. By the mid-1980s, what the GLC was doing was broadly fine. As many of my hon. Friends—not least my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell)—who were not Members of Parliament at the time have said, the GLC needed serious reform, not spiteful abolition; it was necessary to re-engage the boroughs with what they should have been doing, and the strategic authority with what it should have been doing.
The new architecture that is rooted in the Bill will evolve as the strategic confidence of London grows. That confidence has been ripped out for the past 12 years; some would say—it is a subject for a chat in the Tea Room rather than for this debate—that it was ripped out way before then. Some parts of the GLC's activities were far from strategic; it was doing things that should have been done by the boroughs.
As I also said on Second Reading of the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill, London needs a strong elected focal point, which a citywide mayor will provide. The voting method for the mayor is sound; it will produce a mayor with a strong mandate. I shall not get lost among the quibbles about what happens when only the top two candidates are left, but I do not accept the premise that that would undermine the legitimacy or strength of the mayoral mandate.
The proposed election system for constituency members and London members of the assembly is appropriate; the Bill demonstrates the strength of a proper use of election systems. We do not need shibboleths; we do not want people saying, "The system must be this one, because it is as pure as driven snow; it is the most perfect and moral." The starting point for choosing an electoral system must be what is appropriate for the elements of government to which one wants to elect people.
The combination of constituency members and London members—to use the Bill's jargon—is also appropriate. I profoundly disagree with those hon. Members who suggested that the 5 per cent. cut-off was wrong. Experience of continental systems shows that the 5 per cent. cut-off is crucial. If hon. Members do not believe that, they should remember what happened in the Isle of Dogs, when some parties—I could mention the Liberal Democrats—lost the plot about what constituted racist literature, although I shall not go into that now.
The two-thirds veto on the budget is an important safeguard, and the relationship between the mayor and the assembly will evolve and develop within the strategic legislative framework proposed by the Bill. Contrary to what some of my hon. Friends have suggested—perish the thought that we would disagree—the power of recall for the mayor is a total red herring. The notion that somehow, given the uniqueness of the mayor's position, there needs to be some form of recall is nonsense.
No one talks about the power of recall for Members of Parliament—perhaps they should. If, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) suggested, Members of Parliament were to become idiosyncratic—perish the thought—no one would say, "Let us have a petition in Ilford, South and get rid of him." They would say, "Come the next election, he's out." That is entirely appropriate for the mayor. Having a recall as some sort of get-out clause would fundamentally undermine the powers of the assembly, of Londoners and of the mayor.
It is time for the London and national media to start to take seriously a major development for this country, and not just this great city. I am bound to say that, to date, by covering a serious political development almost as a beauty contest—with unendorsed individuals posing as party candidates and rushing for the latest photo opportunity—the media have fundamentally let down London and Londoners. Where is the debate?
I shall endeavour to honour that request. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill ought to include some specific provisions to enable the election expense rules to apply from the point at which people declare their prospective candidacies—and, indeed, start campaigning, as a number of Members of this place and elsewhere appear to have done so far?
I think the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) meant serious candidates. To give him his due, that is a fair point—in the context of the Mickey Mouse contest that we are having now. If I thought seriously that this was the start of what ultimately will be the contest between the candidates in May 2000, he would have a more serious point. In general terms, that matter must be addressed—not least because the essence of some of the American models was all about going out and buying a mayoralty with the individual funding of particular people. That was wrong. That was a good point—I will give the hon. Gentleman that one.
In terms of the London and national media, where is the debate about the future vision for London? Where is the debate about the strategy that London should be taking, on a cross-party basis, into the 21st century? It is not there. It is about who can pose with Puss-in-Boots last and look best, which has let down London by offering nothing about what London needs from the mayor and the assembly.
We need more than putative Tory candidates suddenly developing—out of nowhere, almost—concern for London; concern that is far too late to be taken seriously, and far too two-faced to be treated with anything other than contempt. That is the case whether it is a Tory candidate who does not know his arts from his elbow and does not know fact from fiction; or a gallivanting spiv who sells second-hand cars—a putative Dick Whittington, whose experience shows that he owes more to the first name of that illustrious mayor than to the second.
Surely Londoners deserve better from the media and from the candidates concerned. It is essential throughout what is left of the run-up to the first mayoral election that all parties have grown-up processes to select their mayoral and assembly candidates—processes that reflect London's diversity and are as inclusive as possible. To take far wider the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, London by its nature is a rich and varied community. More than 35 per cent. of its electorate are black or Asian in origin. That must be reflected across all parties in the mayoral or assembly candidates if Londoners are to take us seriously as politicians and as political parties.
In general, business welcomes the Bill's proposals, as do the traffic professionals, with whom the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk had so much difficulty. Despite what was suggested on Second and Third Reading of the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill, the police fully accept the proposals. Everyone accepts them, except the Tories, who seem simply not to understand the notion of strategic governance or what London needs for the future, and the Liberals, who as ever play whingeing schoolboy games. They are loaded with pomposity and divorced from reality, and think that they are playing with a little Lego set rather than a vital element of our constitution.
There are key elements of genuine concern that could have been brought out far better in the debate in the media and in the House, but the overall provisions of the Bill are to be welcomed. As someone who served for 11 years on a borough planning committee and for about four years—it seemed longer—on the London planning advisory committee, I accept that some greater clarity may be needed on the specific planning proposals in clauses 226 to 241, but I do not believe, from my reading of the Bill, that they are loaded against the boroughs, or that we will have a nasty GLC mark II that is inherently anti-development and will try to stop areas of London doing what they want.
The key to the spatial development strategy is the word "strategy". The relationship between borough unitary development plans, the spatial development strategy and the role of the mayor will pan out in the appropriate fashion. Concerns about borough planning powers are misplaced.
To those who have the pleasure of being on the Committee—that is a plea not to be on it, I hasten to add—it will become clear that the spatial development strategy, the London development agency strategy and the transport strategy must be pulled together if they are to prove effective.
The architecture of governance for London outlined in the Bill will allow London to be a key international city for the future, with, I hope, mayoral candidates and assembly members for the future. That new governance, representing all of London, will give us all faith and confidence, and a strategic vision rooted in democracy for Londoners. That democracy and strategic vision are long, long overdue.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who laid great emphasis on the word "strategy". That is the word that one uses when one does not really know what to do; hence "strategic rail authority", when the Government have no policy of their own on the railways. It was a bit rich for my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) to be lectured by the hon. Gentleman, who said that she did not understand the Bill's provisions for transport, when it became increasingly obvious during the Secretary of State's speech that he did not understand what to do with the tube.
We have heard much about the functions of the proposed authority and the conflicts that might arise. There were interesting contributions from Government Members about the voting system and whether open lists should be introduced. I wonder whether we will have a re-run of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill on that issue. There were many contributions from Opposition Members—not only Conservative Members—about hypothecation of road charges, and I will return to that later.
It is something of a privilege for me to be at the Dispatch Box tonight. I think that I am the only Front Bencher from any party who has spoken for his party on the Scotland Bill, the Government of Wales Bill and now the Greater London Authority Bill. Such is the serendipity of politics. Speaking as someone born of Scottish parents, with a Welsh name and born a Londoner, perhaps I am qualified to do so, however. By a further irony, my wife's grandmother turned on the lights of the Greater London council in the building that is now an aquarium, and my father turned them out. I take great pride in both actions.
The Queen's Speech referred to the need to help to make London a world-class city. If it is the Government's policy to approach the establishment of a Greater London authority on the basis that London is not already a world-class city, that might explain the absence of media interest in this debate to which the hon. Member for Harrow, East referred. The Bill presents the potential for a vast new layer of bureaucracy. There is a strong case for a mayor in a co-ordinating role, but the Bill proposes a huge panoply of powers and duties. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk pointed out, the Bill is twice as long as the Scotland Bill, which has far more constitutional significance.
The composition of powers on transport for London contains not the prospect of integration, but the danger of conflict. Everything done by the boroughs can be second-guessed by the mayor under clause 131, and everything done by the mayor can be second-guessed by the Secretary of State under clause 124. As usual, the Government are trying to have it both ways. They pretend to be in favour of genuine devolution, but allow the control-freak mentality of Ministers to maintain ultimate control over everything.
The research conducted by the London chamber of commerce showed that business sees transport as the priority issue for the mayor, and that point was echoed by many hon. Members tonight. Once again, the Government are trying to have it both ways, which is leading to the dither and delay that have become a feature of the Government's transport policy. Over all looms the presence of the Treasury, which remains the ever-present ghost at the feast of any transport debate under this Government.
The Bill is a two-headed beast on transport. The new transport authority for London will be vested with huge powers and a glance at schedule 9 shows that all the panoply of powers of the existing transport authorities—to own transport, to operate vehicles and transport services, to finance and to subsidise—will be transferred to the new authority. Schedule 9, paragraph 14(2)(a), even contains provisions giving powers to own and develop property for completely unrelated, unconnected purposes. Extraordinarily, paragraph 8(1) will give the new authority the power to manufacture and repair spare parts. The new authority will have powers to do everything bar renationalising privatised industries. The Bill has all the hallmarks of old Labour, but it is also new Labour.
New Labour wants all the benefits of privatisation. In particular, it wants access to private capital, but none of its disciplines. That unlikely mixture of old and new Labour is behind the PPP—the private partnership—
It is not surprising that I am confused. The game was given away when the Minister of Transport gave evidence to the Transport Sub-Committee of the Environment, Transport and the Regions Select Committee. Instead of referring to the public-private partnership of the National Air Traffic Services, he inadvertently referred to privatisation, which is the one word that he was not meant to say.
The public-private partnership is part of the new Labour third way and is an extraordinary mixture of old and new Labour. The sub-committee described the Government's proposals for the tube as "rather a convoluted compromise". That has led to dither and delay and left the Secretary of State with no policy at all.
The order of events has been curious during the run-up to the Greater London authority, particularly as regards congestion charging and transport policy. Usually, Governments produce a consultation paper, then a White Paper and then a Bill, before the funding is put in place if that has not been done already. However, the third way—that mixture of old and new Labour—meant that we began with manifesto commitments that bore little relation to reality. Then there was a year's delay, and then the funding was rather unfairly settled when the Secretary of State lost his battle in the comprehensive spending review. The tube subsidy is to be cut by 2000, as the Secretary of State confirmed today. The revenue subsidy will be phased out and new revenues of up to £1 billion a year from non-residential parking charges, congestion charges and road tolls are assumed by 2005.
After the funding came the transport White Paper in July. Then there was the U-turn on the tube, and then came the Greater London Authority Bill, which contains powers for congestion charging and non-residential parking charges. Finally, the Government produced a consultation paper to prove that they had not made up their minds on how the money should be collected, who should pay, who should be exempt and how much people should pay. All that is yet to be decided, and the most important city in the United Kingdom is to be the guinea pig for an experiment.
The financing of transport in London—particularly that of the tube—is in a state of chaos. The Secretary of State did not help to resolve the confusion when he spoke this afternoon. He first admitted that it was assumed that the public-private partnership would replace tube funding by 2000. How can that be? How can capital raised from the private sector replace a revenue subsidy provided by the public sector? It is a complete mystery.
The interesting word in the Secretary of State's speech was "assumed". He spoke in the past tense. He obviously no longer makes that assumption. He was at great pains to emphasise that there was no deadline for the public-private partnership of the tube. I believe that he was conducting a negotiation with someone not in the House, and that person must, of course, be the Treasury. By agreeing to the abolition of the tube subsidy by 2000, the Treasury has set a deadline. What will the Secretary of State do to replace the funding? Is the tube really expected to become self-financing in 2000? Perhaps the Minister can tell us.
When the Secretary of State said that there was no deadline, he meant that the Treasury had already set one. The Treasury has him over a barrel. Once again, the Chancellor has stitched up the Secretary of State. That explains the Government U-turn on the transfer of the tube to the Greater London authority. The Financial Times was briefed by an un-named Minister as follows:
The chances are that candidates would campaign on a platform of blocking the sale. That would have been a disaster.
Note the word "sale". It is not the correct word. It should have been "public-private partnership".
All that explains the urgency of using London as the test bed for the congestion charging experiment, which is the Secretary of State's fall-back position. It is the only option that the Chancellor has left the Secretary of State. The new revenues are to replace cuts in subsidy on the tube.
My hon. Friend is making a most important point. What the Government are doing is central to their approach and typical of new Labour. They propose to clobber the motorist and the employer with their new charges rather than making London's transport the fantastic service that it could have been with proper privatisation that would have given people an incentive to use it. We are getting the worst of both worlds.
My hon. Friend is right. He was also right to point out that parking charges will place an extra burden on employers. Those are extra taxes, which the Confederation of British Industry has roundly condemned. Again, it is new Labour: old Labour. New Labour is meant to be friends with the CBI, but old Labour, which raises taxes, is rapidly falling out with that organization.
That raises the question of hypothecation, the constant claim of the Secretary of State since he produced the White Paper in the summer, but it is completely at odds with parts of the document "Breaking the Logjam", which was produced earlier this week, and with parts of the legislation.
The Bill is clear. We have already discussed schedules 13 and 14. It includes a provision
requiring a charging authority to pay a prescribed proportion of the net proceeds … to the Secretary of State",
and any sums received by the Secretary of State will be paid into the Consolidated Fund.
The Bill does not conform to what the Government are saying. If they are serious about their pledge, let them put it in the legislation. Of course, they cannot do so because they have lost the argument with the Treasury. They protest and cite the 10-year pledge. That pledge, which is in "Breaking the Logjam", reads:
The Government therefore proposes that local authorities which bring forward pilot road user charging schemes should be able to retain 100 per cent. of the net revenue generated for at least 10 years".
The operative word there is "should". The Treasury prevented the Government from putting in "will" because it has not agreed. The explanation is given a little further on in the document:
This is because there could be poor value for money if low priority transport projects were undertaken simply because of restrictions on the use of revenues.
There we hear the silky voice of the Treasury mandarins, who are determined to ensure that the principle of hypothecation is a buck that they do not pass.
Interestingly, paragraph 3.16 of the document, gives the value added tax implications. We read:
Action is currently being taken by the European Commission against the UK … for not levying VAT at the standard rate … on road and bridge tolls.
We read this in a document produced by a Government who deny that tax harmonisation is on the agenda of the European Union. It also underlines the fact that, when they lose that case—as they probably will—a large proportion of the revenues from congestion tolls, charges and parking taxes will go to the Treasury, at least in the form of VAT. If that is to be denied, why do they not put that provision in the Bill?
I shall carry on with my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Parking levies and congestion charges are just another tax. Tube financing is in a mess. There is no certainty or time scale, there are no deadlines and the money will run out in 2000, so the new taxes are the only option. If I am wrong, perhaps the Minister will guarantee at the Dispatch Box that none of the new revenues will be used to finance the tube, which has always been the responsibility of central Government. I shall give way to the hon. Lady if she would like to give that guarantee. No, it appears she will not take up that offer.
That is why the new taxes are destined to be unpopular. In Oslo—
I am slightly confused. The hon. Gentleman makes a point about the new taxes but, as I said earlier, Westminster Conservatives want their right to introduce a congestion tax to be considered urgently. Does that make them old or new Labour?
I am not responsible for Westminster council. Given the way in which the Government have ripped the grant away from that council, totally unjustifiably, it is understandable that it should want to raise resources elsewhere. The hon. Lady should be under no illusions: it is the loot that the council wants to get its hands on. That is its main priority.
The new taxes are destined to be unpopular. In Oslo, road charges were introduced with a clear and visible link, so that those paying them could see the benefits that they were gaining. When Austria attempted to introduce road pricing without such a clear link, a successful campaign called "Road pricing? Nein danke!" stopped the proposals in their tracks.
The real question is how much will be paid in London. The Leicester experiment suggested that motorists would have to pay £6 a day to be sufficiently deterred in order to get out of their cars and use public transport. In London, the figure would have to be higher because the distances are greater; everything is on a greater scale. That underlines that this is just another tax.
It adds insult to those who have to travel by car that fuel duties have been increased by £9 billion on top of Conservative plans over the lifetime of this Parliament. The motorist already pays £31 billion in motoring taxation, and hardly one fifth is spent on transport. That proportion is set to fall. Now the Government produce yet more taxes and burdens on the motorist. This would truly be a poll tax on wheels—but to call it that is unfair, because at least the primary legislation gave the poor an exemption from the poll tax. The increased costs of motoring hit the most vulnerable driver groups the hardest. Those are also the fastest growing driver groups: low-paid workers; women with second cars; disabled people; and pensioners, for whom a car is one of the last luxuries that they want to have to give up.
By tackling urban congestion, the Government are tackling the wrong target. To reduce traffic growth, they would need to tackle inter-urban congestion. Inner urban traffic is hardly growing and suburban traffic is growing a bit. The main growth is inter-urban traffic, from where the main increase in pollution and congestion will come. The proposals hardly bother with that.
The problem with London traffic, especially in central London, is that it has long been at saturation point. To a certain extent, congestion is self-regulating. Charges can change its nature—there would be fewer Metros and Citroen 2CVs for the convenience of people who can pay with impunity, and more Jaguars and Rolls-Royces—but it is most likely that there would still be saturation. That may mean that congestion in Hampstead high street remains much the same.
The charges are simply new taxes. They have nothing to do with congestion or the environment and everything to do with politicians wanting to get their hands on the loot. In the Secretary of State's case, it is about rescuing him from his own incompetence in his negotiations on the tube and with the Treasury in the public spending round.
The solution to the problem of the tube is to privatise it, which would raise serious capital. Instead, the Government are going in for the most desperate sort of briefing. The Sunday Telegraph suggested that the Secretary of State is planning a £5 billion integration of the tube and the railways. What an irony it would be if the most hotly disputed privatisation of all, rail privatisation, ended up with the newly privatised Railtrack riding to the rescue of a Government who oppose privatisation in principle and continue to oppose it for London Underground.
Where are the plans really coming from? Are the Government just kite-flying so as to distract attention from their own mess? What studies have been carried out into the proposals? What is the real feasibility of running British Rail trains through parts of the circle line? What is the time scale for the introduction of the proposals? What are the implications for the crossrail project? Is crossrail now dead? Has the City been told that the Government have abandoned crossrail? What are the costs of the proposals? Whence is the funding to come? What does Railtrack get in return? The public-private partnership for the tube has no timetable. Tube policy has become a train that lacks even a time for departure, let alone a clear destination.
The Bill does nothing for transport in London. It fiddles with structures and bodies instead of policy. It pays off the ransoms of past political hostages to fortune, instead of laying real plans for the benefit of Londoners. The Bill will not generate one extra penny for transport in London, except by placing extra burdens on motorists. The Government will learn, once again, that it is one thing to raise expectations, but quite another to fulfil them. The Scotland Act 1998 raised huge expectations, but in the end it only increased the nationalist vote. The Government of Wales Act 1998 has set members of the Labour party at each other's throats. In London, the ghosts of the GLC will return to haunt the Labour Government.
The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) spoke at great length about strategy, but if we accept his definition of what constitutes "strategic"—a lack of policies—we can see that he is a member of a comprehensively strategic party. He went on to give the House the most fantastic interpretation of Government policy, but I shall concentrate on the two issues to which he attached enormous importance in the course of weaving his web—talk about smoke and glass!
Let me nail the fallacy that the Government have reduced investment in London Underground. It was the previous Administration who, in the 1996 Budget, made cuts to London Underground funding of £130 million. They proposed, on the basis of their remaining in office, to increase that cut in the 1998–99 Budget to £248 million; and in the 1999–2000 Budget, to increase it yet again, to a total of £378 million. The Labour Government found, in one Budget, an additional £365 million for investment in London Underground, thus ensuring that, over two years, London Underground had £1 billion for investment. The hon. Gentleman appears to be unclear about the purpose of Government investment in the underground, thinking that it is for revenue; in fact, it is, as it has always been, essentially for capital investment.
The hon. Gentleman moved on to the public-private partnership—a phrase he had some difficulty in remembering and saying. There has been no Government U-turn. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made it abundantly clear this afternoon that we have learnt the appalling lesson of rail privatisation and that we have no intention of going down that track, which caused such a vast waste of public money—millions and millions of pounds. Vast amounts of public money still have to be poured into the privatised rail service, yet the service still fails to meet the high standards that the people of this country expect.
A public-private partnership is on track—I hate to use that phrase. As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said, he is not offering any opportunities—we are talking about competitive bids. Unlike the previous Government in respect of rail privatisation, we shall not be tied to or driven by a date or timetable that brings in its train an appalling level of service and vast sums of public money having to be poured into our railways.
The hon. Member for North Essex referred to a story in The Sunday Telegraph of 13 December. The suggestion that Railtrack has been chosen as the sole bidder for a project of the sort described is entirely untrue. The Government have no plans whatsoever to privatise the underground. We made it abundantly clear in our manifesto that that was not our way forward. Our way forward is a public-private partnership. If the hon. Gentleman has serious questions to ask—judging by his speech this evening, he has neither serious thoughts nor serious questions—they would be better addressed to the journalists of The Sunday Telegraph who wrote that piece of fantasy.
I share with many of my hon. Friends—I am sure that those who did not say so feel it too—a sense of pride in the fact that the Bill has been delivered to the Floor of the House. It is another example of the Government keeping their promises—and in this instance, they made a promise to Londoners. The official Opposition have made several U-turns on this policy. They heralded it initially as an appalling idea. However, when they saw how popular it was with Londoners, they decided that it was not so appalling after all. Some Conservative Members have claimed tonight that the mayor will have too many powers, while others have claimed that he or she will have too few. Conservative Members are clearly not committed to restoring a democratic voice for London—but that is hardly surprising since the Conservatives took that voice away in the first place.
The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) spoke at great length about her concerns regarding the assembly's lack of accountability, transparency and powers. She was concerned about a proliferation of bodies and she dubbed Londoners "guinea pigs". Londoners voted overwhelmingly for the proposals that we are debating this evening. It is entirely typical of the Conservatives—who have little respect for Londoners—that, when Londoners get what they have argued and campaigned for, the shadow spokesperson should dub them "guinea pigs".
The right hon. Lady expressed concern about environmental targets. The mayor will have a responsibility in that area, and I direct the right hon. Lady's attention to part IX, clause 242 onwards, of the Bill. She was not the only Member to argue this evening that the mayor should be removed by some means other than the vote of the electorate. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) also expressed that view. We believe in the intelligence, perspicacity and political sophistication of the people of London and we believe that they should decide when to remove the mayor.
Several themes surfaced this evening from all sides—
I regret that I will not give way as we are rather pressed for time. I think that the hon. Gentleman has had more than his fair share of interventions.
Several themes recurred throughout the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East referred to tax-varying powers. We have made it abundantly clear that there will be no such powers as far as the London mayor and assembly are concerned. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made exactly the same reference, and I reiterate my previous point.
Taxation was a particular concern to several hon. Members on both sides of the House, so I shall take this opportunity to reassert our position and, I hope, calm the fears of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait)— who I regret is not in her place. She was particularly concerned about taxation, which she said would inevitably increase. I can well understand her point of view, as the previous Conservative Administration raised taxes 22 times after giving a clear commitment before the general election that they would not do so.
As I have said already this evening, approximately 3p a week will be added to band D council tax. The contribution that Londoners will make towards the cost of the mayor and the assembly is about one fifth of the £20 million a year that we estimate the mayor, the assembly and its staff will cost. Council tax payers will continue to contribute to the cost of policing, fire services and other Londonwide services when the GLA takes over.
There are proposals in the Local Government Bill for reserve powers to limit excessive council tax increases. That was referred to by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman), who reiterated the fear that Londoners would be asked to pay more and more for the GLA. The Local Government Bill will prevent the GLA's precept from increasing unacceptably. That was one of the issues that was raised with what I shall not go so far as to call boring regularity by Conservative Members, and I hope that my remarks will calm their fears.
The hon. Lady paid tribute to Londoners' perspicacity, wisdom, political sophistication and sagacity, which will allow them to choose a mayor who would not ever be in danger of being recalled. If they are so wise, why cannot they have an authority with powers that they can vary, rather that one that is controlled by the Secretary of State?
They voted overwhelmingly for our proposals for a directly elected mayor and a separately elected assembly. It would be wrong twice to overturn the democratic decision of Londoners, which the hon. Gentleman's proposals would undoubtedly do.
My hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), for Romford (Mrs. Gordon), for Ilford, North (Ms Perham) and for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) all raised in their individual ways issues that they and their constituents believe are particularly important—deprivation, unemployment, the environment and crime. They spoke of issues that matter to the people of London and which the authority will be empowered to begin to tackle strategically for the whole of London. The Bill contains powers on the environment, biodiversity and other issues mentioned by—I have to say, in fairness—hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Conservative Members have raised the issue of how much of the revenue raised by congestion charging and the levy on private non-residential parking will be spent by the mayor and the assembly, and the boroughs when they have those powers, on improving transport in London. I repeat, for what must be the fifth time, that every penny raised by those levies will be spent where it is raised to improve transport. The money will be used to implement the mayor's integrated transport strategy. That will be the case outside London when powers for the remainder of the country are introduced.
I respect and admire the way in which the hon. Lady has made that commitment. Would she be prepared to move an amendment in Committee to remove paragraph 15(5) of schedule 13, which says:
Any sums received by the Secretary of State under the regulations or a charging scheme shall be paid into the Consolidated Fund"?
I believe that he was not. I dealt with that issue when the point was made about the number of times that that suggestion has been put to the House. I made it clear that we are listening to what he and other hon. Members have said. I repeat: every penny raised will be spent on improving transport in the area where it is raised.
I refute the other canard, which emanated from the hon. Member for North Essex, who wound up for the Opposition, that there was a battle with the Treasury which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State lost. The Government—a united Government—have broken the barrier of hypothecation. The Conservatives did propose this kind of tax-raising powers in their transport paper, but there was never any mention of hypothecation in this connection. We have broken that particular barrier, as we are breaking so many other barriers which the Conservatives may have talked about but on which they significantly failed to act.
No, I will not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North shared my pride in the Bill. She spoke of the cultural dimension that can be introduced by the strategic authority. The House would have been amazed if she had not raised the issue of black cabs, but she did. Again, she welcomed the wider transport strategy that the mayor and the assembly will introduce.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Would she recommend that a Labour mayoral candidate stood for election on the platform of introducing congestion charges?
If I understood the question correctly, clearly my answer would be yes. It was part of our White Paper that such charges would be introduced; the Prime Minister said in a statement at our conference in Blackpool that the mayor would have the necessary powers; and I have outlined six times tonight precisely how the moneys will be spent. I have made it abundantly clear that it is one of the modernising successes of the Government that we have broken the shibboleth of hypothecation and that a united Government will ensure that this particular revenue stream will be directed to improving transport in London. Improving transport in London will inevitably and invariably improve the environment in London.