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Mr. Simon Hughes: Following the good question asked by the hon. Member for Brent, East, the former leader of the Greater London council, may I remind the Minister that the Labour manifesto did not commit itself to a one-question referendum? I therefore ask him to consider that matter as open for discussion.

Secondly, may I ask the Minister to be equally open on the question that gave his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister problems earlier this week--the sequence of events for the next 12 months? Will he at least consider whether, if we are to have a referendum, we can have a Bill on the referendum after the White Paper on the proposals?

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman asked a couple of questions, and I shall take them in sequence. He knows what we said in our manifesto, and we regard that as fundamental. We are in the business of putting into effect our manifesto commitments and we shall not in any way resile from them. However, as he also knows, we are considering carefully the wording of the question to be put in the referendum and shall reach a view on it. I shall certainly listen carefully to any representations made by the hon. Gentleman or others in the months ahead.

As for the hon. Gentleman's second question--will he remind me what it was?

Mr. Hughes: My second question concerned the exchange between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on Wednesday as to the timetable of Bills, Green Papers and referendums.

Mr. Raynsford: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have already spelt out the timetable, but I shall repeat it. We shall publish a Green Paper next month, and that will be followed by a three-month consultation period on its proposals. We will then introduce measures to allow the people of London an opportunity to reach a decision through a referendum.

A White Paper before the referendum will set out the detailed conclusions of the Government on the precise form of the new strategic authority that the people are being asked to endorse in a referendum. There will be an opportunity through the White Paper for Londoners to understand fully the proposals that they will be asked to endorse in a referendum.

Mr. Hughes: I accept what the Minister says, and that is a perfectly proper starting point. However, there is a strong case for saying that the sequence of events should be the other way round--that the White Paper should come before we consider the Bill and the referendum, as people should know what they are being asked to vote on.

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. People should vote on a clear proposal to establish a

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strategic authority, and they should know what is envisaged. The detailed Bill giving effect to that authority should come after the people have given their endorsement in a referendum to the point of principle. There will then be a full opportunity in the House and outside for people to put their views to us and to try to influence proceedings. There will be an opportunity for a full and proper discussion of the precise arrangements. That is the proper order that we will follow.

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking): May I preface my remarks by congratulating my hon. Friend the Minister on the speed with which he has introduced a clear manifesto commitment that was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of London? During the consultation process--either in the Green Paper or elsewhere--will Londoners have an opportunity to deliberate on whether there should be electoral reform of the way in which we elect both the mayor and the Greater London authority, so that Londoners have the same opportunity as those voting for a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly to find new ways of electing representatives?

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend has been a great advocate of the reform of London government and of the concept of a mayor. She makes an interesting point on one of the most crucial issues that will need to be determined during the consultation period--the method of election for the strategic authority. I hope that she will accept that, at this stage, it would be improper for me to say more than that we will consult fully on that matter when we publish the Green Paper, and that we will set out our views on how we might proceed.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I am grateful to the Minister, who has been most generous in giving way. In an answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the hon. Gentleman referred to authorities on the edge of London that might wish to change their relationship, and raised the possibility of a future referendum or even additional questions on the referendum paper. During the election campaign in my area, the governance of London was not an issue--although my area wishing not to be part of London any more was.

Mr. Raynsford: We have covered that issue in some detail, but I must make it clear that I did not suggest the possibility of a future referendum. I said that boundaries are not fixed immutably for ever and that it is a subject to which we may return, but I made no commitment on a referendum.

London clearly has a range of considerable strengths which place it at the very top of any league of world-class cities. It is well known that its financial and business service sectors are second to none; that London is a leading destination for international tourism, and is becoming more and more popular by the year; and that London's arts, culture and entertainment are truly world class and lead the way in terms of innovation and new ideas. There are many more successes to which I could point, and many more that the new mayor and assembly will strive to deliver.

For all those successes, there is a downside, reflected in the heavy price that many Londoners have to pay for living in the city. In my area of responsibility--and that

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of the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), who will reply to the debate--the issues of air quality, arising from the inexorable rise in traffic and congestion, the ever-present problem of homelessness, which is a deep shame to our city, and the growing numbers of long-term unemployed combine to undermine the hopes and aspirations of London and Londoners.

It will come as no surprise to many hon. Members that London has more unemployed people than Scotland and Wales combined--more than 300,000 at the last count. What is worse than those shameful figures is that more than 44 per cent. of London's unemployed have been out of work for a year or more. The proportion is also growing rapidly--up from 29 per cent. just five years ago.

Sixteen of the most deprived local authorities in England are found in London--many represented by my hon. Friends present in the Chamber this morning--and 14 of the 20 most deprived wards in England are found in London. Not only is London home to widespread deprivation, but the depth of that deprivation is severe. Some 64 per cent. of the most deprived local authority housing estates are in London and more than 700,000 tenants in the capital are reliant on housing benefit. Those statistics paint a very different picture from the one frequently used to portray London.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I am glad that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to the problems of poverty, long-term unemployment and deprivation throughout London, which, as he rightly said, are the worst in the country. However, the authority is not due to be elected until 2000. Do the Government intend to establish an economic development agency to promote employment prospects ahead of the installation of the new authority for London, so that we can begin to tackle those serious problems?

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and he will know that the Government are committed to introducing measures during this Session to allow the establishment of regional development agencies throughout England. In London, we will proceed in parallel to establish a mechanism for regional development activity, which will have the added advantage of the democratic structure created by the Greater London authority to ensure that the regional development agency in London is subject to full democratic scrutiny.

The statistics paint a different picture from that frequently used to portray London--a picture of despair, neglect and waste, beneath the real successes and prosperity of our capital. They paint inexorably a picture of a divided city. One of the challenges facing all of us with responsibility for London is the need to overcome the very sharp divisions between wealth and poverty which so often sit side by side in our capital. Around the edges of the City of London--perhaps one of the richest communities in the world--we see areas of the deepest deprivation to be found anywhere in the western world.

I pay tribute to the excellent campaigning work by the Evening Standard, which a couple of years ago drew attention in a series of in-depth articles to the appalling quality of life endured by far too many people in east

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London. These divisions are unacceptable in a civilised society. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), who intervenes from a sedentary position, is an example of those divisions in London. He knows about the wealth of London. It would be appropriate for him to give some thought to the poverty that exists in our city.


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