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My Lords, I join the other speakers in this debate in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, for giving us the opportunity to speak on this subject. I have seized the opportunity for two reasons. First, I was born in London and have lived here for the past 40 years, largely due to the urgings and preferences of a metropolitan-minded wife. I have, I hope, learnt some things about this great city in which we live. The second reason is that in London my party, the Green Party, has been successful and is having a serious influence on what is happening. We have three members in the rather small Greater London Assembly and a Member of the European Parliament. All those members take the governance of London very seriously.
We are all interested in the forthcoming mayoral election. Most of us probably have mixed feelings; I certainly do. Although I fully support Darren Johnson, our member in London who is standing for election, I am nevertheless thankful to the present Mayor of London for the job that he has done. In particular, the congestion charge was a very brave and useful piece of social engineering. If I had to choose someone who I thought would be the best possible mayor in a personal capacity it might be my old friend Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat candidate.
The main thing that I have learnt from living in London is the need to bring governance as near to the people as possible. I thought at the time—and nothing has made me change my opinion—that the move towards the present large boroughs was a disaster and went far towards destroying the real touch of the ordinary Londoner in governance. The present Mayor's theory that he would like even smaller and fewer boroughs is along the wrong lines, too.
During my time in London I have lived in three villages; I have not lived in a particular borough, although from time to time I have been involved in borough affairs. I have lived in Hampstead village. I have also lived in the village of Kew, where I was a vicar of two parishes. I was accepted by the Diocese of Southwark as a clergyman when the Diocese of London thought that to ordain a maverick like me—who was at the same time a colonial clergyman—was probably a mistake. They were probably right. Nevertheless, I had two parishes, and that was another village in which I lived. I now live in the village of Clapham. In each case, it is that village that I live in rather than the borough in which, theoretically, I am a member and a voter—I go to the polls, being as a Peer able to exercise my rights in that election.
My party would either break up the London boroughs to create smaller councils that reflect London's historic communities, such as those before the great reform, or keep the London boroughs and create urban parish or community councils so that different neighbourhoods had their own directly elected voice, which they do not have at the moment. I am delighted to know that there is a London Governance Review Commission, which can make recommendations on such matters.
We want to see the creation of urban parish or community councils, as London is the only part of the United Kingdom legally prevented from having them. We want boroughs to be broken up to create separate smaller councils. We want to see proportional representation for local government, not just for selfish reasons, but because it would produce much greater representation of different opinions, a good thing in itself. We have some hope that we may actually get that. When I first became a Member of your Lordships' House, there was merely a solitary, rather pathetic bleat from the Liberal Front Benches in favour of proportional representation. It is now widely accepted that proportional representation has a very important part to play in local government. We would like more power to be transferred to the Greater London Authority from central government and quangos such as the Port of London Authority and the Housing Corporation.
We live in the greatest city in the world, certainly the greatest pleasant city—I am afraid that I do not count New York as a pleasant city. It would be very nice if the future of the city were such that all its citizens could feel in touch with their government at different levels, right up to the Mayor and the Greater London Authority. It is very important for the future of democracy that voters should feel in touch with their immediate representatives. Unfortunately, that does not happen sufficiently at present, and we need reform in that direction.