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Extradition Decision (Dublin)

3.30 pm

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) (by private notice) : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on extradition between the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom following the decision of the Supreme Court, Dublin, on 13 March.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke) : The Supreme Court in Dublin yesterday overruled orders for the extradition to Northern Ireland of Dermot Finucane and James Pius Clarke. Both men are convicted terrorists who escaped from the Maze prison during the mass breakout in 1983. Clarke was serving 18 years for the attempted murder of a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment and Finucane was serving 18 years for possession of firearms and ammunition. Upon their apprehension in the Republic of Ireland, extradition of both was ordered by the district court. Appeals on behalf of both men were quashed by the High Court but were yesterday upheld in the Supreme Court, their last court of appeal. The Government are deeply disappointed at that decision.

Details of the judgments, which I understand are lengthy and complex, are not yet available to us, but I believe that the main ground of appeal was that their rights under the Irish constitution would be infringed by the treatment these prisoners would be thought likely to receive in the prison system of Northern Ireland. That this was upheld by the court is both disturbing and difficult to understand. It is an unacceptable slur on the professionalism of the men and women of the Northern Ireland prison service. I shall study the full judgment as soon as it is available and will pay particular attention to the references to Northern Ireland prisons. The conditions in the Maze prison, indeed throughout the prison system in Northern Ireland, are widely regarded as among the best in Europe. Both the British and Irish Governments have pledged themselves to ensure that effective arrangements are in place for dealing with fugitive offenders. Extradition is a vital factor in this. I remind the House that it was the Irish authorities who originally sought these extraditions on our behalf and who have continued to make strenuous efforts, at every level of their judicial system, to bring these cases to a successful conclusion.

I shall obviously also be studying the full judgment carefully to see what implications it has for other cases. It is clearly right that each case should be considered on its merits. But our principal concern, shared with the Irish Government, is that the system as a whole should work effectively, as well as fairly. We will pursue this with the Irish Government.

Mr. Kilfedder : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Dublin Supreme Court decision yesterday causes widespread anger and dismay among the people of this country, especially the people of Northern Ireland, who have suffered death, mutilation and agony at the hands of the terrorists for 22 years? More importantly, it generates disbelief and sadness--I wish, even in the anger of this moment, to emphasise the sadness--since the United Kingdom Government constantly stresses that the Irish Republic is whole-hearted in the fight against the IRA.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the decision seems to provide a bar to the extradition from the Irish

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Republic of terrorists who commit their atrocities either in Northern Ireland or in Great Britain, so long as those atrocities are part of their brutal campaign to bomb Northern Ireland into an all-Ireland republic?

Finally, will the Secretary of State ask his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to arrange an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, Mr. Haughey, to ensure that the next six wanted men will be extradited from the Irish Republic to face justice in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Brooke : I am at one with the hon. Gentleman in much of what he has said, but I should reiterate that it was the Irish authorities that brought these cases on our behalf and it was the Irish court, which is independent, that ruled in the matter. Until the judgments of the Supreme Court have been received and studied, any comment on the effect on other cases would be merely speculative. However, if the judgments affect only cases involving Maze escapees, the immediate impact will be limited, as there are at present no other such cases before the Irish courts.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : Does the Secretary of State share my bewilderment over the virtual suppression in the news industry of the earlier Supreme Court ruling of 1 March, that the claim to a united Ireland is no mere aspiration but a valid legal claim? Does he agree that that judgment discredited all the assurances given in the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Does he further agree that it provided grounds for yesterday's decision by the same Supreme Court, which probably felt that, having established its legal claim without any challenge from Her Majesty's Government, it was free to argue that it could not be expected to transfer or extradite its citizens from one part of what it considered to be its territory to another part?

Mr. Brooke : I am conscious of what the right hon. Gentleman said in the earlier part of his question, and he will recall that we had the opportunity for an exchange across the Floor of the House on Monday. As to the supplement to his question, I see no basis for the assertion that the Supreme Court's decision on the Finucane and Clarke extradition case is related to the McGimpsey judgment, which concerned the constitutionality of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, or for the right hon. Gentleman's inference that in the light of that judgment, the Irish authorities could no longer extradite persons to Northern Ireland. I am aware of no evidence from yesterday's judgments to suggest that the Irish now refuse to extradite people on the grounds that they consider that they have a legal claim to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the failure last year to extradite a suspected terrorist, Mr. Ryan, and the failure yesterday to extradite two convicted terrorists reveals--in the most awful way--the unsatisfactory nature of our extradition arrangements with the Republic?

Does not my right hon. Friend understand that those two whose extradition was refused yesterday are convicted terrorists who are likely to return to their terrorist organisations and maim and murder others? Will he undertake to the House that, as a matter of the highest priority, he and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will put forward views and proposals to

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the Government of the Irish Republic on how we can achieve proper arrangements for extradition between our two countries?

Mr. Brooke : The disappointing results in the Finucane and Clarke cases yesterday, to which my hon. Friend refers must be set against the generally satisfactory working of the extradition arrangements between our two countries over the past two years. Since January 1988, 13 persons have been returned to the United Kingdom, and orders for delivery in respect of a further six persons are currently the subject of appeal proceedings before the Irish courts.

Additionally, the Irish state has successfully appealed against the decision of the district court not to order the return of a further two persons. I share my hon. Friend's disappointment at yesterday's decision, but it should be seen against a generally satisfactory working of the arrangements over the past two years.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe) : Does the Secretary of State agree that, contrary to the reaction in some quarters of the press and of some of his hon. Friends about the future of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the forthcoming conference is all the more desirable to enable the Irish side to discuss coolly with him the fact that the judiciary is independent of the Executive and that the Supreme Court is specifically obliged to protect the constitutional rights of citizens?

Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Anglo-Irish Agreement offers a valuable framework within which the two Governments can discuss issues of mutual interest and concern, such as the one that we are debating this afternoon. Once we have had the chance to examine the Supreme Court's lengthy judgment more fully, we will make our response within the framework of the agreement. We have already made our representations through the secretariat.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster) : Does the Secretary of State accept that the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom are disgusted at the failure of the southern authorities to extradite the two convicted terrorists? The judgment in the Supreme Court in Dublin has given great succour and joy to the terrorists' organisation. Can the Secretary of State understand the feeling of terror in my constituency, given that one of the terrorists was convicted of terrorising the people of my constituency along the border? What happened yesterday was another kick in the teeth for the Government.

Mr. Brooke : I have already registered our disappointment in the outcome of the case. However, we should respect the independence of the Irish judiciary in the same way that we would expect them to respect ours. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Brooke : I draw the attention of the House to the silence of the Irish Government in the context of a judgment in the House of Lords last week.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : Is the Secretary of State aware that most people in the United Kingdom will be very disappointed by his reply to the House this afternoon? For him to say merely that he is disappointed will come as a shock to most people. He should have said that he was outraged at the Irish court's decision.

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Is the Secretary of State aware that, in addition to the reason given by the Supreme Court, which he mentioned--its suspicions about warders in the Maze prison--there was an even worse reason, which has not yet been mentioned in the press? I refer to the second judgment given yesterday, by Mr. Justice Walsh in the Supreme Court. As far as extradition is concerned--we are talking about convicted IRA men, not suspects--he said :

"political exemption should not apply to persons charged with politically motivated offences when the objective of such offences was to secure the ultimate unity of the country."

So long as people kill outside Northern Ireland and so long as they do so in the interests of a united Ireland, it is allowed by Mr. Justice Walsh. That is the situation under the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Does the Secretary of State recall that, when he and his colleagues tried to gain support in this House for the Anglo-Agreement, the headlines said, "It will bring normality into extradition"? Does he believe that normality exists in extradition?

Mr. Brooke : The right hon. Gentleman referred to the language that I used today. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the sense of outrage at the implicit slur, which played a part in the judgment, on the Northern Ireland prison service. I endorse that, and referred to it in my statement.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the judgment of Mr. Justice Walsh. I was aware of that aspect of the case. We shall examine that aspect of the judgment, together with all others, to see whether it moves the law forward from the Dominic McGlinchey case.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is considerable disquiet in Eire about the decision, that Mr. Alan Dukes has expressed his view on the subject and that we have every reason to question how the judiciary arrived at its decision?

Mr. Brooke : I am aware that politicians in the Republic of Ireland have made comments about the case. I especially noted that they recommended that it should be handled at an early stage within the framework of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Does the Secretary of State agree that, until we know the raison d'etre of the judgment, we cannot make constructive comments? Would not it be wiser to wait until we know the reasons for the decision? Discussions may then take place with the Irish Government about possible improvements to the existing state of affairs.

Mr. Brooke : I hesitate to say this to the hon. Gentleman, but I am answering a private notice question. I was not volunteering a statement.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker : Order. I remind the House that a private notice question is an extension of Question Time. I shall call two more hon. Members from each side, and then we must move on.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : Since it is clear what reasons were given by the Supreme Court in Ireland yesterday, and since the court was dealing with convicted terrorists, does not it sound suspiciously like an excuse for a court to do something that it would otherwise be wrong

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for a court to do? If terrorists get the impression that courts of law are leaning towards their side, what chance have we of defeating terrorism?

Mr. Brooke : My hon. and learned Friend is right to enter that consideration. We would regard with horror any comment that encouraged murder in any part of the world.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : While I personally found the decision odd and unhelpful in the fight against terrorism, would not it be unfortunate if a judicial decision in the Irish Republic--the Secretary of State stressed that it was a judicial decision--led to a state of hysteria in the House of Commons? Will the Secretary of State be frank enough to admit that some Members of Parliament--we know who they are--will do anything to create the maximum ill will between the Irish Republic and this country?

Mr. Brooke : I do not think that anything approaching an air of hysteria exists in the House. Hon. Members have expressed their understandable concerns about a decision which they found disappointing.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes) : May I follow the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder), and emphasise the sadness caused by the Court's decision? This decision and a previous decision made by the Supreme Court seem to render null and void article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which will have to be reconsidered.

Mr. Brooke : I think that my hon. Friend is confusing the particular circumstances of this case with the other case to which he alluded. But I join my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) in saying that there are unfortunate aspects to this case which we shall pursue through the framework of the agreement.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North) : We share the surprise and disappointment at yesterday's decision of the Supreme Court in the Republic of Ireland. But to echo what the Prime Minister said in the House yesterday--on the day when a politician could institute prosecutions, the rule of law would end. I am sure that the right hon. Lady would support the Supreme Court's desire to remain impartial, detached and free from all political or diplomatic pressures in its objective determination of the issues involved. However, the court's decision is still very disappointing. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, until the announcement of the court's decision, arrangements had been set in train for handing over the two men at the

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border? Secondly, can the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act 1976 be invoked to bring proceedings against the two men in the Republic? Thirdly, on the advice that the right hon. Gentleman has now received, does the decision apply only to this case or to cases that were decided before the Irish Republic incorporated into its domestic law the convention against terrorism? When the case was presented before the Supreme Court, were any steps taken to try to contradict the evidence produced to support the appellants who based their case on Chief Justice Hutton's decision in the Pettigrew case? Was evidence produced to show how much the Irish prison service has improved over the years?

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Irish prison service for doing a job that none of us would undertake willingly. [ Hon. Members-- : "Northern Ireland prison service?"] One would pay tribute to the work of the men and women of the prison service, whether in Ireland or the rest of the United Kingdom, because none of us would want to do that job.

Finally, will the Secretary of State confirm that both Governments still regard extradition as an important weapon in the fight against terrorism and that he will raise those matters at the next Anglo-Irish Conference? If it did not exist, decisions such as this one of the Irish Supreme Court would more than justify the Anglo-Irish Conference and the decision to establish it under the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman's first question related to yesterday's arrangements for handing over the two prisoners at the border. He is perfectly correct--it was visible to everyone on television--that massive arrangements had been made on both sides of the border for the reception of the prisoners. In that respect, the court's judgment was a surprise.

Extra-territorial prosecution would be a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, but he would consider that only after having had the opportunity to study the judgment in full. The hon. Gentleman asked also about the effect of the convention on the suppression of terrorism. That would depend specifically on the particular charge in each case, and one would have to examine it on a case-by-case basis.

The Government provided substantial evidence to the Irish courts on the central issue of the behaviour of the Northern Ireland prison service, not least to the effect that any such treatment would be a crime in the jurisdiction of the North. The hon. Gentleman's final question was about the importance of extradition in the joint arrangements. We have discussed that matter before in the Anglo-Irish Conference and I confidently expect that we shall discuss it again at our next meeting.

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Points of Order

3.53 pm

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At about 1 pm today, the Evening Standard reported a horrifying near-collision between two underground trains at King's Cross. This information calls into question the one-person operation on the tube and has revealed serious signal faults.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : This is not a point of order.

Ms. Ruddock : The information came to us when the House was sitting and prevented me from applying to you, Mr. Speaker, for a private notice question. The matter is of such great concern to my constituents and to the constituents of all hon. Members representing London constituencies that I must ask whether you have any information that the Secretary of State intends to make a statement to the House on this matter, which could have been another horrifying tragedy at King's Cross.

Mr. Speaker : The whole House is anxious about such accidents, but fortunately there was no injury to people in this case. I have received no information from the Government, but I am sure that those on the Front Bench heard the hon. Lady.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have not we today been hoist by our own petard? Was it not the much-praised prison service of Northern Ireland that allowed the prisoners to escape?

Mr. Speaker : That is not a point of order. Furthermore, I do not know what a petard is.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have given you notice of an extremely important matter. The Standing Committee that is considering the Broadcasting Bill has now reached its 36th sitting. I apologise for not raising the matter earlier, but I was given the courage to do so when I noticed that the Committee that considered the legislation that became the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977 had 58 sittings before the matter of its hybridity was raised.

I want you to consider, Mr. Speaker, whether the Broadcasting Bill is hybrid and should follow another course of action, such as a referral to examiners or to a Joint Select Committee. The accepted definition of hybridity is that of Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster, who said that a hybrid Bill was

"a public bill which affects a particular private interest in a manner different from the private interest of other persons or bodies of the same category or class."

That relates to the problems that have arisen in Committee. The matter was brought to our attention when the Government tabled new clause 42, which was entitled

"Duty to provide advance information about programmes". It affects only two journals in Britain. I refer again to Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster's words :

"other persons or bodies of the same category or class". The journals are the TV Times and Radio Times. The nature of their copyright possession on scheduling of programmes was to be changed. Without that element of control, the parent ownership of the Radio Times was left

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at the mercy of other competitors who could reschedule accordingly. Furthermore, the basic business of the TV Times and the Radio Times, which are both private companies--one is owned by BBC Enterprises Limited and the other by Reed International--was strongly affected.

My second reason for believing that the Broadcasting Bill is a hybrid Bill is--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must not go into detail about what is going on in a Committee. That does not concern the House.

Mr. Buchan : I am giving a truly factual account of an amendment to the Bill. I am not concerned with what has happened in the Committee but what has been incorporated in the Bill.

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman kindly gave me notice of the matter, and I have been able to consider it in some detail. I can help the hon. Gentleman and the House. I believe that the new clause and the amendment to which he has referred have not yet been disposed of in Committee. It is not out of order for a Committee to make amendments that make a Bill hybrid, but I should not wish to make a ruling on such a matter before the Bill has been reported.

Mr. Buchan : In that case, I shall stick to the second ground why I believe that the Bill is hybrid. I have also given you notice of that in my letter.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I have told the hon. Gentleman that I cannot rule on the matter until the Committee has reported.

Mr. Buchan : I understand that, but, according to the precedent, which I examined with care, the earlier such an issue was raised, the better. On the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act, 1977, the apology was begged for 58 sittings and I have already apologised for 36 sittings. The matter should have been raised on Second Reading, but it came to our attention only when new clause 42 was tabled.

Mr. Speaker : What, then, is the hon. Gentleman asking me to do?

Mr. Buchan : I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, to undertake to report, presumably tomorrow, to the House, as happened on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977, on whether you think that there is an element of hybridity in the Bill. If there is, a course of action other than proceeding with the Bill in its present form is then open to you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I cannot undertake to do that tomorrow but I shall certainly undertake to do that with the greatest care when the Bill has been reported to the House in the usual way.

Mr. Buchan : Would it not be more sensible and in the interests of everyone if that could be rectified? That is why I should like to proceed and it is important that I should proceed--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The debate has not yet been concluded. As I understand it, the new clause is currently under discussion. It has not yet been disposed of by the Committee.

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Mr. Buchan : What I am trying to make clear is that I have two distinct grounds. This having been brought to my attention yesterday, I examined the Bill to deal with the second ground, which is--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I cannot rule upon it now. It is not in my power to do so. I must wait until the Bill has been reported. That is the moment when I shall look upon it with great care. If the House agrees to the timetable motion, our debate today must end at midnight. It is taking a lot of time to deal with a matter that I really cannot rule upon.

Mr. Buchan : I am proceeding according to the precedent set when the previous Bill was dealt with. I will have to find other means of drawing attention to the peculiar case of Mr. Murdoch, who is being exempted from the operations of the Bill. If that does not create hybridity, I do not know what does. We are now told that the Bill will not apply to one individual, although it affects everyone else. The Minister said that it was not for the Government to pull the plug on a venture that was already running and had cost Mr. Murdoch vast amounts of money. It therefore also means--this is why it is so serious

Mr. Speaker : Order. I honestly think that the hon. Gentleman has asked me now to pre-empt a decision which I shall have to consider with the greatest care at the appropriate moment. I cannot do that in the middle of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is taking time from other hon. Members.

Mr. Buchan : If the Bill is hybrid, this is the exact moment to raise the matter, so that it does not go through any more useless consideration by the Committee and we can follow the proper procedure. There is a different procedure for hybridity. That is why I must make the case to you, Mr. Speaker, to see whether you can prevent the Government from wasting their time and the House from wasting its time in Committee and later on Report. It would take me two minutes to finish, so that you could consider the matter. The position of Mr. Murdoch and his holdings-- above all, Sky Television--has apparently been exempted from the Bill, which means a lifting for him of those barriers to people possessing other groups and bodies. The maximum 20 per cent. holding rule for those who have other press holdings does not apply to Mr. Murdoch. He owns 35 per cent. of the national press of this country. The requirement

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to be a British citizen or a citizen of the EC will not be a barrier to Mr. Murdoch and Sky Television. He is an American. This puts him in a different position from all others who may compete for the licence. The Bill is hybrid. We should examine it so that we will no longer waste time on what is, in any case, a pretty inadequate Bill, and can treat it in the proper way.

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : There can be nothing further to it, because I have already made a ruling that I shall look at it with the greatest care when the Bill has been reported.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told the House a few moments ago that he had not volunteered a statement on the issue which was raised in the private notice question. Surely the matter is of such importance that we should have a statement, if not from the right hon. Gentleman, certainly from the Attorney-General. Have you any information, Mr. Speaker, about whether he will make such a statement? Furthermore, often when the business for the week is given on a Thursday, we are told that the necessary documents such as those relating to the EC will be printed in the Official Report so that we will have an opportunity to study the documents before the debate comes up. Could that general policy be followed before any statement is made or any debate takes place in the House regarding the two judgements of the Supreme Court in the Irish Republic, so that all hon. Members could study the judgments and form their opinions on them?

Mr. Speaker : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks will have been heard by those on the Government Front Bench. I granted today's private notice question, but I have no knowledge of a statement.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : On a matter of mutual assistance, Mr. Speaker. Would you, as an ex-military man, care to know what a petard is? I feel sure that the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) has no idea. Would you, Mr. Speaker, be interested to know?

Mr. Speaker : As a matter of fact, I would--but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell me later over a cup of tea.

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London Local Government

4.5 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law to enable parish and community councils to be created within Greater London. In one respect, London is uniquely disadvantaged. Wales, Scotland and the rest of England all have, wholly or in part, parish local community councils. Although London is based on the parish structure, as is the rest of the country, it cannot have parish councils. When local government reform at a lower level last took place 20 years ago, there was a series of mergers between small local authorities, to form much larger authorities. Subsequently, we saw the removal of the countywide authorities--so in London, below central Government, there is only one level of lower local government--borough councils. There are 32 of them, plus the City of London. Below them there is nothing, and communities as large as my own of 215,000 people have no local form of assembly, democratic representation or decision-making. They have no true local authority.

There is provision for parishes to be created elsewhere than London. Under the Local Government Act 1972, a procedure exists for the creation of parishes other than in London. To my own knowledge, at least three attempts have been made in this House and in another place since 1972, on a cross- party basis, to remedy the disadvantage that London has suffered since the abolition of the smaller borough councils 25 years ago. The late Graham Page introduced the Urban Parishes Bill in 1978, and in another place Lord McIntosh of Haringey introduced in 1984 the Urban Parishes Bill, which, after completing all its stages in the Lords, fell in this House only because it came here for its Second Reading towards the end of the Session. In 1987, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), with support from hon. Members of four other parties, introduced the Directly Elected Neighbourhood Councils Bill to allow places such as London elsewhere in urban Britain to have, at the behest of ordinary people, the opportunity to establish the parish councils that people elsewhere take for granted.

The Bill will allow the process of creating parish councils to be instigated by the people in the areas that those councils would represent. London, like many other cities, is a collection of villages, not one unbroken metropolis. When people are asked where they live, they answer Willesden, Bromley, Bow or Walworth. They do not say that they live in Haringey or Brent. The place in which they live is much smaller than the boundaries of its borough council. People associate themselves with ancient communities having names that have come down through the ages and have their own histories and established traditions.

I seek to give the people of London the opportunity to petition the Boundary Commission for England, so that it may discuss with local people and their local authority the appropriate boundaries for a parish council-- and then, in a short, time-limited period, make a proposal for a precise area in which parish council elections could take place.

The Bill would allow a proper democratic structure for representing the views of the local community to the borough council or to other authorities. There is no doubt

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that it would enhance community spirit, participation and pride. It would be an advantage, because some decisions could be made at the lowest possible level. It is certainly needed to counteract the remoteness and alienation that many people feel from local authorities throughout London.

There are very low turnouts at many local elections, largely because people neither know the candidates nor feel that the authority is near enough to be likely to do anything for them. As a matter of justice, if other places can have parish councils, I do not understand why we should not have them, too. Would it not be a good thing to build into our democratic structure the possibility of electing people to councils that represent the places where people feel most naturally at home?

What would such councils be able to do? They would be able to take part in planning consultation and possibly make devolved planning decisions. They would be able to provide community facilities such as community halls and street lighting and improve parks and benches. They might be able to take on the local management of schools and be the forum for police authorities and for the funding of community groups and act as a consultative network between the higher borough authority and the local community.

How would they be funded? They would not need to raise any money, but otherwise, like all other parish councils, they would precept a penny or two which the borough council would collect and they would be able to spend. All sorts of places would suddenly have the possibility of having recognised democratic community authority. The Government have said that they do not receive much correspondence requesting that such councils be set up. That is what the Minister said when a similar Bill was last debated in the other place. I am in no doubt that, if people believed that they could have parish councils in London, the establishment of those councils would have enormous support. Certainly, in the boroughs of Bermondsey and Southwark, people would like them tomorrow, because they do not feel that they can relate to local government. I believe that parish councils would be as popular in London as the poll tax is currently unpopular, and that three out of four people would probably support them.

People would ask whether such councils would be just another layer of bureaucracy. The answer is no, because most parish councils have one part- time clerk, and that is often an honorary post. They do not have their own buildings or offices ; they work out of a community building or community hall. There is no need for them to be bureaucratic or in any way to have the disadvantages of government at a higher level. They need not even be political bodies. Many parish councils have people elected as independents because they are known and respected and willing to give their time to the community. Of course political parties would not be banned, but they would not have to take a predominant role at that level of local government. On all other occasions when such a Bill has been introduced, it has received widespread support. I believe that good local government requires real local government. It is time to bring to an end the anomaly that London cannot have the parish councils which the rest of the country enjoys.

Question put and agreed to.

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