Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Taylor: If the hon. Gentleman did not get called last night, that is not a matter for me; and if he is worried about the timing next Tuesday, that is a matter between him and his Whips. Details of the timing of debates for Tuesday will be discussed in the usual channels. If the hon. Gentleman has a problem, he should talk to his Whips.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Is not the point, though, that this all stems from the original high-handed slapping of a guillotine on the constitutional measure to do with referendums earlier in the week? If that timetable had not been put in place, or if it had been less severe, the many people who wanted to speak but who did not get a chance to in the later stages would have been able to do so.

Will the right hon. Lady undertake to settle the matter by agreeing that, when other legislation such as the devolution Bills comes before the House, it will not be timetabled--or at least not timetabled in such a ludicrously strict way? That would enable others to speak in the debates.

Mrs. Taylor: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his forthright honesty--for letting us know what was really going on last night. He has let the cat out of the bag. Last night was nothing to do with the Opposition's attitude to the Education (Schools) Bill; it was retaliation for our success with the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill.

6 Jun 1997 : Column 717

Governance of London

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

11.12 am

Mr. Livingstone: Before I was interrupted, I was dealing with the relationship between the mayor and a small elected strategic authority. I am not sure that such an authority would be a sufficient check on any possible abuse of power or corruption by the mayor. In the United States of America, there tends to be a lot of wheeler-dealing between the mayor and the city council, which may comprise only a dozen or 20 members. Trade-offs and deals are done as everyone proceeds cosily in their usual ways of working.

I should much prefer the more vigorous approach which is a tradition of our political system: a party leadership held to account by its own party members every bit as much as by opposition members.

I had the impression when I intervened earlier that there were some not wholly supportive rumblings on my own side, so I wish to refer to the disease of manifestoitis. We are told that something is in the manifesto so it must be banged through. I draw attention to what happened in 1983, when the Tory manifesto included a one-line reference to abolishing the GLC--even though the former Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), had recommended against and the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), was opposed as well.

The only member of the Cabinet at the time who was in favour was Lord Tebbit. But Mrs. Thatcher rammed abolition through, whereupon the House wasted two years of its life abolishing the Greater London Council, to general consternation.

Everyone said, of course, that the move had been in the manifesto, but that is not to say that there was not something wrong with it. It remains our job to scrutinise issues, even if they have been mentioned in the manifesto. I remember a GLC pamphlet that we issued that resulted from a private meeting of Tory Members of Parliament with Willie Whitelaw, who said, discussing the mess that the Government had got into over abolishing the GLC, "How do we get out of this mess without appearing disloyal?"

If we are honest, my party knows that there is no overwhelming support for a separately elected mayor in the London Labour party, among London Labour borough council leaders, or among Labour Members. We know that the Prime Minister is enthusiastic about the idea and that he genuinely believes in it. Massive pressure was brought to bear on Labour borough leaders to go along with the idea and not to rock the boat or appear disloyal. So we all went along with it; we did not make a fuss; it was what the leader wanted. But we must get it right: the leader may be wrong. After real thought and real consultation with Londoners, we may decide not to proceed with it.

Every opinion poll has shown overwhelming support for an elected authority, but opinion polls on whether we should have a mayor have varied. The issue still needs to be argued through. If Londoners ultimately vote for a mayor, that will be the end of the matter--but it is not yet a foregone conclusion. Londoners will want to know how

6 Jun 1997 : Column 718

to guard against corruption by such a powerful official. The American example will weigh heavily with many people. Nor do we want a continual state of warfare between a mayor and an elected authority.

I detect here a touch of what I like to call the Millbank tendency. Some of our friends in the Millbank tower have not been in the Labour party machine for quite as long as some of the rest of us and are not as steeped in the culture of the Labour party and its politics. They may even not feel quite as engaged with Labour's trade union traditions as others of us do. They may want a mayor to be above party politics--above the fray. That is why I want the Minister to tell us something about the ideological principles underpinning all this.

If we make the case for a directly elected mayor, why not have a directly elected Prime Minister? He would be above the party fray, able to wheel and deal. I cannot see why the principle should apply to local government but not to national politics. I always feel that some of the more recent members of the Labour party almost wish they had been born in America, with its presidents and mayors, its pomp and its glamour. They are not too happy about being restricted by the ideology, principles and traditions of their own political party and background.

We need to think seriously before breaking with the political traditions and culture of this country and importing a foreign method of government of which we have no understanding or experience.

Not everyone in my party has doubts about a mayor. My good and hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) has been loud in his support of the idea, and is loudly making it clear that he wants to stand for the position.

I followed my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) into a radio studio the other day where she had just been saying that the mayor would occupy the second most powerful position in the land--she may not have been including the monarchy. Hence, she said, the mayor should be remunerated accordingly and paid much more than a Member of Parliament.

When I was on the GLC, we earned £5,000 or £6,000 a year--we did the job because we wished to serve London and make it a better place. I have grave doubts about creating a position with so much attendant pomp, publicity and salary. Londoners will be left confused about where responsibility lies. I urge the Government to get it right. Londoners must not feel pushed into a corner, unable to make the choices that they want. They must not be presented with a fait accompli--a take it or leave it referendum. They are bright enough to make their own choices.

I know that London is not flavour of the month with all the other parts of the United Kingdom, but we can make up our own minds about what sort of government we want. We need a multiple choice referendum: do Londoners want a mayor and an elected authority? Do they simply want an elected authority without a mayor? Do they want it to have revenue-raising powers? Do they want--I offer this in a cross-party spirit--proportional representation? I would see no objection to that. [Interruption.] I thought that that would lose me some of my Campaign group friends. If there is no consensus, the authority will not survive a change of Government 10 or 15 years down the road. It must be voted for by Londoners, and Londoners must agree to make that choice.

6 Jun 1997 : Column 719

The key issue is the revenue, although we will be obsessed by the issue of the mayor. If the Treasury remains in control, the government that we create for London will have no more independence than the Vichy regime in France under the Nazis. I am not equating the Treasury with the Nazis, even if I have some complaints about it. With the Treasury in control, the mayor would have no more authority than Marshal Petain, which is not what we want.

Londoners must have the right to vote for people who will do things that the Treasury does not want and things that upset the Government of the day. When we had a Tory authority, it upset a Labour Government. When we had a Labour authority at county hall, it upset the Tory Government. We all forget, however, that we had Labour authorities that upset the Labour leadership, and Tory authorities that upset the Tory Government of the day.

11.20 am

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), is a civilised man. As I recognise that this is not the last debate that we shall have on the subject, that is a great relief. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was an admirable foil to him, and for the same reason I hope that my right hon. Friend retains his present responsibilities.

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is a most engaging hon. Member and he will know, I think, that it is a genuine expression on my part when I say that it is a privilege to serve as a fellow inner-city Member with him in the House. I thought that I detected in his speech the not too distant rumble of thunder.

I have not recently read Michael Innes's book, "Operation Pax", but my recollection is that it starts with a man going into a shop in London, uttering a familiar phrase and suddenly finding himself catapulted, as James Bond once was in Harlem, into an underground cavern. The sentence that he uttered was Dr. Johnson's phrase:

The man who went into the shop had not realised that that was a significant password.

Apart from evacuation, much of my education, the army and abroad, I have been a Londoner all my life. I had 18 years in business in Mayfair, meeting a payroll for Londoners every month for those 18 years, and since then I have had 18 years as a full-time Member of Parliament. My family have been Londoners since my grandfather came down from Birkenhead in the 1880s. My father was a London Member of Parliament for 23 years. He served on the old Hampstead borough council for 19 years. My noble mother, who is still with us, served on the Hampstead borough council for 17 years, and my father led the Tory party on the old London county council for seven years after the war.

My own contribution to what is called the governance of London is rather more modest. I spent 18 months on the London borough of Camden, but I have frequently thought that 18 months on the London borough of Camden is worth 18 years on a number of other

6 Jun 1997 : Column 720

authorities. In 1957, when my father held the responsibilities that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal previously held, he was responsible for setting up the Herbert commission, to which the hon. Member for Brent, East paid compliments.

I went on the London borough of Camden in 1968. That was the year when the Tory party took Hackney and the Labour party in Islington was wiped out. It was the only year in which we took power in Camden.

The grandfather of the Minister without Portfolio, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), succeeded in winning the LCC in 1934. That was interrupted for the only time in 30 years in 1949, when the Tory party effectively won the election for the LCC, although the Labour party, by what I would neutrally describe as a pre-Nolan stratagem, retained power. My mother won a by-election in Kilburn in 1948 and held it at the council elections in 1949. She is the last Tory councillor to sit for Kilburn.

Perhaps even more significant, after the great landslide in 1906, the Liberal party, which had held the LCC since 1898, was swept out of power in 1907.

Although of course I acknowledge the substance of what we are debating today, it brings a smile to the face of some of us that, considering this background of national landslides being succeeded by London landslides in the opposite direction, it is conceivable that one part of the policy and strategy of the present Government is to change the playing field in advance of that other landslide taking place.

Governance is a 17th-century word, appropriate to our present puritan masters. I mentioned in the debate on the Queen's Speech on 16 May, about which the Under-Secretary of State was kind enough to send me a note, that in the 120 hours of canvassing that I did on the doorsteps of the Cities of London and Westminster, not one elector raised with me the need for a strategic authority in London. I do not make too much of that, but that absence was notable when we read about the tremendous enthusiasm. I recognise, of course, that discussion of the matter sells newspapers, and I am not in the least surprised that the campaign has been led by the media.

In light of what the hon. Member for Brent, East said about the Prime Minister's views about the mayor, I fear that we may be going in the same direction as we have sometimes gone in Europe--our leaders tell us what we need, but they are not necessarily supported by the generality in the country. There is a quotation fromC. S. Lewis to the effect that, when one hears about somebody going around doing good to others, one can always tell the others by their hunted look. That, too, is in line with the puritan strand in the present Administration.

Of course I acknowledge that there was a differential swing against the Conservative party in London. There may be a number of reasons for it, including the fact that the swing against the Labour party in the late 1970s and 1980s had also been differentially high. Conservative Members who represent London seats must have a decent humility in these matters in the light of the defeat that we suffered, but it is also right for us to be decently wary about what the Labour party is proposing.

6 Jun 1997 : Column 721

Where are we? The House will recall the moment reported by T. S. Eliot when he got into a cab in my constituency and the taxi driver looked over his shoulder and said, "You're Mr. Eliot, aren't you?" T. S. Eliot confirmed that he was. The taxi driver said, "I had that Bertrand Russell in the back of my cab only a fortnight ago, and I said to him over my shoulder, as I am saying to you now, 'What's it all about, then?' and do you know, he couldn't tell me."

My right hon. Friend alluded to the opaqueness of the Government's proposals. When Senator Vandenberg was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he came on his first visit to Europe at the time of the formation of NATO. He arrived at Le Bourget, which is where one arrived if one was flying into Paris from abroad. The entire French press who were gathered at the bottom of the companionway asked him to say a sentence in French. It was a language of which he was imperfectly the master. His mind went entirely blank, but there suddenly came back into it a single sentence from his school days, and he said in impeccable French, which I shall not quote because of the rules of the House, that there had been no great men since Mirabeau. For the next three days the entire French press sought to unravel that statement and discover its significance for contemporary French politics.

The ambiguity of the Government's position, which was not much reduced by the Minister's speech, I had charitably attributed to tensions within the London Labour party, which the hon. Member for Brent, East acknowledged. In what has happened so far, there is a whiff of the remark that used to be made about Denis Compton: that if he called you for a run, it was not an instruction, but the opening of negotiations. One senses that that has been going on in the London Labour party. Moreover, if one does not know where one is trying to get to, any road will get one there.

As this is a day for candour, I acknowledge what the Minister and the hon. Member for Brent, East said about the preparations for the abolition of the GLC in the 1983 Conservative manifesto. I remember it with particular clarity. As I did not know what the Conservative manifesto was going to say, and as I was a London Member and had to write my election address before I knew what it was going to say, I too had to resort to a certain ambiguity about our intentions.

There is universal agreement, even on the Government Front Bench, that we are not seeking a renewal of the GLC. The epitaph that I would choose for the GLC is reflected in the perception that, when the GLC was in existence, if one wanted to move a single parking meter, to add one or remove one, it would take nine months of correspondence between the local authority and the GLC to achieve that objective.

I do not want to give the impression that we are in the state of east Berlin prior to the fall of the wall, but there is a pleasant echo in a 1980s joke about the Stasi when the wall came down. When that event took place, there was no work for former Stasi members, so they all became taxi drivers. Indeed, they became the best taxi drivers in the world: all one had to do was to give one's name and they automatically knew one's address.

After 1986, power was transferred to the boroughs and it was welcomed by them. One of the few leper squints of pre-election Labour thinking on the governance of

6 Jun 1997 : Column 722

London appeared in an article in The Times of 14 March, which included the following memorable sentence--de haut en bas, and I apologise for breaking my own rule--

    "Since boroughs appear to be carrying out their tasks adequately at present they will carry on with them."

The author of that remark is a member of the present Administration. I do not believe that any hereditary peer or peeress would ever have uttered quite such patronising words as fell from the pen of that life Member of the other place.

What none of Labour's preparatory language has contained is a detailed rebuttal of the legendary article that appeared in The Economist in August 1994, which stated that the way that London is currently being governed is the way in which great cities will be governed in the next century, while acknowledging that transport is a citywide issue.

There are witnesses in the other place, and from parties other than my own. At the macro level, ask Lord Tope, who has considerable London experience, of his views on the Abercrombie plan's effect on London's industrial and employment base. At the micro level, ask Lord Stallard about the destruction of a thriving piano manufacturing industry in Camden Town because of the Greater London council's transport policies.

London is ultimately a series of villages. We have never been subject to a Baron Hausmann regimenting us. We have a strong sense of locality, reminiscent of the Scottish soldier in a military hospital in Mesopotamia in 1916. He was interviewed in his bed by a visiting general, who asked him where he had been wounded. The soldier replied that he been wounded three miles the Ardnamurchan side of Baghdad. That same sense of locality prevails for Londoners as well. In the history of Bart's, my favourite index entry is:

If for Kipling east was east and west was west, for Londoners north is north and south is south. There is an engaging mutual ignorance of the other side of the river. When Arthur Wellard was playing in a pre-war match at the Scarborough festival and hit a ball into the small piazza outside the Scarborough ground called Trafalgar square, it was reported on the six o'clock news. Someone rushed into Mrs. Wellard's home down in Somerset and said, "Did you hear, dear, Arthur has just hit a ball into Trafalgar square?" Whereupon Mrs. Wellard said, "Fancy that, I wonder whether he was playing at Lords or the Oval."

To apply this village sense to one of London's industries, tourism, can be exemplified by the American couple passing through Parliament square, where one or the other asked what the Houses of Parliament were. The other replied, "It is either Oxford or Cambridge, but I'm not sure which."

I choose tourism because it comes into the category of the objectives of the strategic authority in terms of transport, planning and employment. Some "villages" have been profoundly successfully in encouraging leisure industries. To an extent, however--I am thinking particularly of Soho and Covent Garden in my constituency--it has become entirely counter-productive from the point of view of everyone who lives in the area. The best solution is to encourage alternative centres, notably on the south bank, where entrepreneurial activity and cultural ambitions, funded by the lottery, are proving

6 Jun 1997 : Column 723

extremely successful in encouraging alternative centres. I have a genuine fear that a strategic authority, instead of accelerating that process, would slow it down. I say that for the purpose of the debate.

The Minister referred to business correspondence, and business has played a notable part in London's flowering over the past five years, in easy partnership with local authorities. It is the appeal of business that it should be consulted in anything that is done. I have not seen much reference--this is relevant to the sentences which the Minister read out--in the current artillery barrage to the schisms in the 1970s, which were the heydays of the Greater London council, between the interests of large business and of small, which are extremely difficult to serve equally in any sort of strategic thinking.

The mayor is a late joker, as the hon. Member for Brent, East implied. I realise, however, that the idea of a mayor has plenty of enthusiastic supporters. I am conscious, of course, of being guilty of the British capacity for thinking of reasons for not doing something. I am, however, a Conservative and I regard our history as informing us for the future. Sam Raeburn, the great Speaker of the House of Representatives, said that the three wisest words in the English language were, "Wait a minute." I share the view of the hon. Member for Brent, East that the history of the mayor needs considerable unravelling.

Roy Porter's distinguished social history is to the effect that we are a city in decline and that we need a strategic authority to cure it. I take a less pessimistic view. My second son, who was 30 this week, works in the media in the northern part of my constituency. He says that he cannot walk down a street in the heart of London without seeing change since he walked down it last because of the entrepreneurial activity that is taking place.

When Roy Porter gave his Carlton lecture on London, I asked him for his views on the impact of new technology in London in the next century. He said that he was not qualified to answer the question. For myself, I think that London can face the millennium with confidence and, unexpectedly for the Labour party perhaps, would add the effect of the energy of a new wave of refugees to that of new technology, which I believe will have a powerful beneficial effect on London. I do not know what new Labour will do for London, for the jury on it is still out.

I end on a constituency note. I took a decision in the middle of the previous Parliament to fight the general election when many of my colleagues, younger than myself, were deciding not to stand. A profound influence on me in making that decision was the possibility that there might be a Labour Government, and apprehension that they might wish to interfere with the arrangements for the City of London.

Those apprehensions have now dissipated but I hope that the new Government's plans will adequately harness the capacity and contribution for good of the City Corporation and the Lord Mayor. That capacity for good goes back over many centuries. The City civic and the City financial are a vivid instance of a successful partnership between business and government, to the good of London as a whole and to the good of the nation at large. I hope that that contribution can be maintained in whatever arrangements for the governance of London the Government see fit to put in front of us.

6 Jun 1997 : Column 724

Next Section

IndexHome Page