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Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea): Perhaps my comment was inaudible to the Minister, as it did not question the tenor of his argument. He mentioned the Evening Standard. I thought it appropriate to remind the Government that there is perhaps just enough time before the honours system is revised to give a knighthood to Mr. Max Hastings, who played such a conspicuous part in bringing this debate about and who, by his support for the Labour party, materially affected the result of the general election.

Mr. Raynsford: The right hon. Gentleman refers to the way in which many of the barons who run the press in this country have made an interesting change in their political allegiances in recent months. In the interests of not intruding into the private grief of the Conservative party, I will say no more about that important shift in public opinion. But I have paid tribute to the Evening Standard, and it is the tribute that is important--not the hollow gong that goes with it.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Raynsford: I have given way on a number of occasions and I now wish to make progress. There are many Members who wish to speak in the debate, and it is time we proceeded.

Our task is to build a united and successful London. We are a one-nation Government and our mission is to establish a one-city government in London, a citywide government that is inclusive, works in partnership with organisations and people, and, above all, works for the benefit of every citizen of London.

Finding lasting and sustainable solutions to the capital's problems will be the very stuff of the new authority. London has waited far too long for the opportunity to take charge of its own affairs. Our proposals will demonstrate the Government's commitment to local democracy and to maintaining London's rightful place at the top of the league of world cities. We want London to be a city in which everyone is able to take part in and share the capital's economic success.

We propose to introduce a slim, workmanlike strategic authority of a kind never before seen in this country. We propose a directly elected mayor, elected from a population of nearly 5 million voters, who will lead the fight against poverty, congestion and pollution and vigorously promote our capital city at home and abroad. Only by putting Londoners back in charge of London can we be assured of achieving our aim.

10.10 am

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): It might have been more helpful if the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) had started his speech the

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other way round, first discerning London's problems and then explaining how his propositions would deal with them. Instead, he started with the solution and ended with the problems. One of the first questions that we must ask ourselves is whether the proposals will help us towards that solution.

The hon. Gentleman perfectly properly said that London was a huge success and that it was at the top of every one of the international leagues. That might suggest that a reordering of government was not necessary. He went on to say that, in many areas, London suffered and could do better. I agree: he is quite right to point out that London, like most capital cities, has the extremes of success and failure. We need to concentrate on the improvement of the bad and the extension of the good.

The hon. Gentleman listed the problems, saying that he was most concerned about air quality, homelessness and unemployment, and that the strategic authority would do something about them; yet I did not hear him saying--perhaps I missed it--that homelessness would be one of the elements with which the authority would be concerned. Indeed, one of the problems with the Greater London council was that it had overlapping arrangements.

The hon. Gentleman has not so far managed to maintain the argument in its totality: he has not explained how the mixture that he presents will solve the problems that we can all agree on. Therefore, I want to examine the proposals--not in a spirit of unhappiness, as the Labour party won the election and did very well in London, which entitles it to makes its proposals--but because the Opposition also have every right to ensure that those proposals are as good as they can be. That is precisely what I intend to do.

Let us consider the proposals. First, there is the proposal about how we are to consider the issues. I have a genuine constitutional concern, as the referendum sits less easily in this country than in others because we are a parliamentary democracy. Therefore, the order in which things are done is extremely important, and the hon. Gentleman should think very carefully about that.

The problem with referendums is simple--in fact, they have often been used in many countries for the opposite of democracy--because a general, vague question is asked and the answer that people give is then used as a democratic excuse for doing whatever the Government they wanted to do in the first place. It is therefore important that, in making their decisions, the people of London know precisely what they are about.

A Green Paper has been suggested. Some of my hon. Friends may tease about the constant references to more and more commissions, investigations and so on, but I shall not do that. Obviously, it is perfectly reasonable to produce a Green Paper--as the proposals are not very precise--to discuss it, and then to produce a White Paper; but it seems to me that it would then be necessary to produce a Bill so that people can know precisely what is being proposed. That is so important because a parliamentary democracy is designed to ensure that the details are argued out in such a way as to ensure that all the difficulties are considered. It may be that, on reflection, the order proves to be wrong.

Mr. Raynsford rose--

Mr. Gummer: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I am not asking him for a solution now. I merely want

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him to think along those lines. He may not change the conclusion that he has come to, but, in dealing with those matters, it would help if the Government at least gave the impression that they were thinking through the issues and would think again if sensible propositions were put to them.

Mr. Raynsford: I have already made it clear that we shall listen to sensible propositions. We have no difficulty with that. The right hon. Gentleman's argument might carry a little more force if the previous Government had followed the course that he now advocates when they abolished the Greater London council. No Bill was published in advance for Londoners to comment on; there was no opportunity for Londoners to express their view, and the GLC was abolished as an arbitrary act. That is a very different course from the one that the present Government will follow.

Mr. Gummer: I had not intended to be tempted into telling the hon. Gentleman exactly what I thought about his comments on the GLC, the abolition of which was extremely widely supported in London, and which was so expensive that he does not want to reinstate it. He used such a good phrase that I wrote it down: he said that the new authority would be of a kind never before seen in this country. That is because the kind of authority that has been seen before in London was so wholly unacceptable to Londoners.

It is most interesting that, in this debate, a phrase has crept out of the woodwork that was made illegal by Labour party apparatchiks during the general election campaign: the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) referred to a Greater London authority--it slipped out. Labour party members were not allowed to say that during the election campaign, because it might have brought back all those memories. If a public opinion poll asks whether people want a Greater London authority, the answer is no, no, no. The whole idea was to propose something different.

The Greater London authority that people remember is the authority that the Labour party turned into a leviathan whose tentacles were as far-reaching as those of Mr. Mandelson. The hon. Member for Barking said recently that she could be a bit freer because Mr. Mandelson's tentacles did not reach--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows not to refer to another hon. Member by name.

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Member for Barking did not put it this way, but she said that the tentacles of the Minister without Portfolio did not reach where she was. The tentacles of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) reached all over London to such an extent that it felt as though he were throttling it.

I thought that it would be a valuable move quite simply to accept that the Labour party has won the election and has made its proposition, and therefore to consider how we can make that proposition as effective as possible.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for taking us through the important questions of the sequence. Does he imagine that the prospect of tax-raising powers--whether for an authority or for a mayor--might come into

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the equation at some stage, as the Minister has already given a slightly contradictory view about whether he is prepared to review the definition of London for the purposes of our discussions and the proposals?

Mr. Gummer: I hope to get on to tax raising because, when it comes to increasing tax in Scotland, the question is asked, but so far--I am sure that this is a matter of omission--there has been no commitment to ask that question of the people of London.

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