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11.37 am

Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham): It seems that we have heard the resignation speech of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke). The Labour party is raring to go to meet the challenge of the by-election.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his appointment as, among other things, the Minister for London. He made an outstanding speech that combined vision and intellectual rigour. The Government have a crystal-clear commitment to return democracy to London and have made an immediate start on that process. That is warmly welcomed by the vast majority of Londoners who, I have no doubt, will give overwhelming backing to the proposals that will lie behind the referendum next year.

The speech of my hon. Friend the Minister stood in marked contrast to the feeble response from the Opposition Front Bench, which was characterised by windy rhetoric and petty point-scoring, which I suspect will be the style of the Conservative Opposition for a long time to come.

The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) even made a half-hearted attempt to revive the issue of the so-called London tax. There will be no extra taxation, local or national, as a result of the new strategic authority for London. The new authority will take over existing agencies--the police, London Transport, the Government office for London and, perhaps, the emergency services--all of which are already funded and for which no extra spending will be required.

On the contrary, as the all-party Association of London Government has convincingly demonstrated in its report "Reaping the Rewards of Democracy", ending the duplication of back-up services and streamlining the new strategic authority offers the prospect of real savings for the taxpayer, not extra costs.

Mr. Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman must be somewhat confused if he presumes that the new authority will take over the strategic role for the police and the fire and civil defence authority, because both are currently precepting authorities. Therefore, by definition, without any other change, the new authority must be able to raise taxes on Londoners.

Mr. Hill: There is no intrinsic necessity for extra taxation, local or national, under the proposed arrangements.

It is a mark of their desperation that the Tories are still running with the idea of a so-called London tax. They tried that on before the general election and they got their answer then--a Tory rump of 11 Members out of the capital's 74 parliamentary seats and the return of 57 Labour Members, the biggest swing to Labour in the country.

The Tories will persist with windy rhetoric and point scoring because they have no positive alternative to suggest. The Conservative party can argue neither from principle nor practical experience to justify its opposition to the restoration of democratic government in London.

The truth is that it is a scandal that London should be the only capital city in the advanced industrial world without its own elected authority. It is the only major city

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in the advanced industrial world without a form of democratic government. Indeed, it is the only city in Britain without a democratic authority. That is an affront to the democratic rights of Londoners and their reasonable expectation of participating in the decisions that affect their lives.

Let us remember that the case for an elected authority does not rest solely on democratic rights, but on the need for efficiency. People want democratic government because they know that democracy delivers better than non-democratic systems of government.

It is the condition of London that offers the biggest condemnation of the Tories' abolition of democracy from our city. I am delighted, of course, that London has apparently regained its status as the world's most swinging city. I am delighted that millions of tourists want to come here each year to enjoy the attractions of the centre of London. Our success in tourism is vital to the London economy.

However, London does not feel quite as good to the vast majority of Londoners living outside the golden city centre. For most Londoners, their experiences of the city are of rising crime, congestion, pollution, a crumbling public transport system, poor housing and high levels of unemployment. Survey after survey reveals that most Londoners do not like living here and would prefer to live elsewhere.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): To return to the question of taxation, I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has read the Labour party policy document, "A Voice For London". It refers to

Is there not some sort of conflict between his ideas and those put forward in the document written by his colleagues on the Front Bench?

Mr. Hill: No, not at all. The new authority will assume the role of agencies that already have precisely those powers. There is nothing implicit in the proposals that would entail any increase in expenditure or taxation. The hon. Gentleman should be more relaxed about the matter, because Londoners have certainly not fallen for that scaremongering tactic.

London needs to be better administered so that it is more responsive to the wishes of Londoners. The interests of London need to be better represented to the Government and to the world. It is precisely because we recognised that that we justified our case for a democratic government for London in a document entitled "Voice For London". Frankly, it is ludicrous that, in the previous Government, the so-called Minister for London was the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and that the London police authority was represented by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Is it any wonder that the new funding formula for the Metropolitan police has meant that we now have 1,000 fewer police officers in London than in 1992? Moreover, we are just a third of the way through implementing the cuts imposed by that formula.

Who was there to stand up for London when our hospitals were closed in favour of new hospitals in the shire counties? Who was there when funding for local government was shifted out of London to those counties? Who was there to stop the draconian cuts that have been

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imposed this year and will be imposed next year and the year after on funding to London Underground? That was the largest proportionate cut imposed on a single major Government spending programme in the past 10 years.

Mr. Brooke: The hon. Gentleman makes allusions to the past 18 years, but he must be aware that the decision to move national health service resources out of London to other parts of the country was taken by the previous Labour Government between 1974 and 1979.

Mr. Hill: That decision was implemented with retrospective resistance by the Labour party during the previous Parliament.

Who was there to highlight the fact that, although London generates one fifth of the Government's revenues, we receive back just one seventh in Government spending? That is why we need a strategic London authority to fight the big battles for London.

We also need such an authority simply to ensure that the city is better administered in terms of Londonwide issues that go beyond the reach of the boroughs. I shall cite a couple of examples of such issues from my experience of transport policy.

I find it incredible that we still have upwards of 50,000 unlicensed minicabs operating in London. Those drivers are subject to no form of scrutiny to guarantee the safety of the public in London. I find it incredible that the previous Government failed to implement the London primary route signing project, which would cost £30 million and would be recouped in one year. Those are the simple straightforward measures that I would expect a Londonwide authority to take up, because they would give us a better city. There are dozens of other examples of how better government could be achieved.

I welcome the Labour party's commitment to democratic government for London, and particularly the proposal for an elected mayor. That person would be a popular focus for civic pride among Londoners and would certainly become a major national figure. We need such a major player to play a leading role in promoting London, especially in terms of economic development and inward investment, which we so desperately need. More than half of the 25 parliamentary constituencies with the highest levels of unemployment are in London. It has more unemployed people by far than any other region in the country.

The mayor must be elected. Given that person's key role as the leader of London, voters have the elementary right to choose who will lead them. That has not always been so when electing London's leaders. An elected mayor confers that right on the voters.

Mr. Livingstone: Can my hon. Friend say why he feels there is a vital right for Londoners to elect a mayor directly when we do not have a directly elected Prime Minister? It seems to me that there is no point of principle between those posts.

Mr. Hill: There are lots of examples from European countries and countries in the British Commonwealth of locally elected mayors who fulfil a promotional role locally and who still operate within an overall parliamentary system. There is no necessary connection. Surely it is horses for courses. We must consider what

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will succeed best, and on the evidence available I believe that there is a powerful case to argue that London needs the focus provided by such a mayor. That person would have the power to go to the Government and to the outside world and make the case for London.

I welcome the Minister's evident commitment to a small strategic London authority--the smaller the better. After all, it will be a strategic authority, whose role will be to co-ordinate, plan, encourage and promote. It will not be in the business of implementing programmes in detail. The last thing we need is conflict with the boroughs as a result of overlapping responsibilities.

There will obviously be ample opportunities to consult in due course on the precise structures of the authority. I hope that the means will be found for the formal involvement of London's business community in that new authority. In the past decade, as a result of the vacuum created by the abolition of the GLC, various business groupings have sprung up or become revitalised as the promoters of London's economy. I am thinking of the London Chamber of Commerce, and especially the London First business organisation, which has done excellent work on behalf of London, not least through its London Pride partnership with the Association of London Government.

It would be foolish to waste such resources. My own feeling is that a strategic London authority should move to an explicit partnership with such bodies, and that could be best achieved by giving it a statutory duty to develop its policies in consultation with the business community.

I welcome the Minister's intimation that a mayor could be elected on a reformed system of election. It would be the mayor's role to represent all, or at least the majority, of Londoners. It would be quite unacceptable if, for example, in a four-way contest on a first past the post basis, we ended up with a mayor who was elected by no more than a quarter of London's voters. Such a result would confer no mandate or legitimacy on the winner. Where it is a matter of electing one person, the alternative vote system is obviously the way to secure majority support.

There are powerful arguments for the adoption of proportional representation for the election of members of the strategic London authority. If we accept the arguments about proportionality for devolution in Scotland and Wales, why not for London? We have said that, in future, we will adopt PR for a reformed House of Lords, so why not for a strategic London authority? Sooner than that, in all probability we will have to introduce PR for European elections, so why not for a Londonwide authority?

As a party and as a Government, we evidently have no principled objection to PR. For excellent reasons, we have stipulated that the strategic London authority should be a lean and mean--[Interruption.]--authority with a relatively small number of members. Perhaps not mean, but certainly lean. Let us not even tempt the Opposition into accusations of largesse on the part of this putative authority. At the same time, like any democratic body, the authority should be as representative as possible of the opinions of Londoners--that vast population of more than 6 million--on whose behalf it will act.

The smaller the number of constituencies and the larger their size, the more similar their electoral characteristics are likely to be, and on a first past the post system, the

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more likely they are to produce the same winner. That could lead to the exclusion not only of so-called minor or third parties but major parties also. It is an arrangement that will almost certainly distort the effects of swing. In other words, we risk a cycle of substantially or exclusively one-party rule in the new authority, and that would undermine both its representational function and the principle of partnership on which it should operate. There are powerful reasons for all political parties to avoid such a scenario.

Although I give enthusiastic support to the Government's proposals for a strategic London authority, I hope that the Government will accept the case for PR as its method of election, on the grounds of both principle and practicality.

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