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Mr. Raynsford: British Gas.

Mr. Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman says "British Gas." What efforts did Greenwich council make to enter into a

6 Jun 1997 : Column 761

partnership to develop the site? It took a Conservative Government to take the site and provide the initiative. An important lesson to learn is that it is not sufficient merely to talk of a new beginning. Commitment and, above all, action provide the foundation for improvement.

Mr. Raynsford: Will the hon. Gentleman, for the record, consider the fact that it was the Labour-controlled Greenwich council that gave planning permission to British Gas for a comprehensive development of the peninsula in the early 1990s, a development which British Gas failed to carry forward? Responsibility for the non-development of the site rests with British Gas.

As the hon. Gentleman appears to be approaching these issues through blue-tinted spectacles, will he reflect and give us his verdict on why the electorate of London, if it felt that everything was so rosy in its city, chose to eject the Conservative party so decisively in the general election?

Mr. Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman talks about action on the Greenwich peninsula. For 10 years, throughout the 1980s, nothing happened.

Mr. Raynsford: Planning permission.

Mr. Ottaway: Planning permission was given in the 1990s, when we had to take things over. Throughout the 1980s, the Labour party did nothing while the Conservative party regenerated the east end of London in a way that was not matched even by the Labour party's wildest dreams.

Mr. Gummer: Perhaps my hon. Friend would care to contrast yet again the difference between the areas that were run by the Docklands commission and those outside its remit, which were run by London's Labour local authorities, including Greenwich. During the 1980s, the commission re-created London, while Greenwich was left almost derelict by a local authority whose politics got in the way of regeneration.

Mr. Ottaway: My right hon. Friend makes exactly my point with force and with all his skill in, and experience of, local government.

Mr. McDonnell: It is money.

Mr. Ottaway: That is the very point. If a Cabinet Minister represents London and the wider strategic area, there will be results. A strategic authority that has no representation in government will not achieve anything.

The Government have proposed a strategic authority and a mayor. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) said, the strategic authority will have no worthwhile powers. The Government's approach is hidden in bureaucratic gobbledegook. The new authority would "help raise funds". We are told that it will "promote strategies". It seems that it will be involved in "identifying housing need". It will keep an eye on health provision. We are told that it will advise and encourage the "providers of education". It will be able to have an influence on the "provision of leisure facilities". In other words, it will have no power. It will be nothing but a talking shop.

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The aim of an elected mayor or authority, if we are to have one or the other, should be to create an executive with serious clout. If we have an authority and a mayor, we want to see success. In other words, we shall want the system to work. It will need powers, if it is to achieve anything, to plan, tax and spend. It seems, however, that it will have none of those powers.

Mr. Raynsford: Yes, it will.

Mr. Ottaway: Well, we look forward with interest to seeing how those developments progress.

Labour's London mayor will have a mandate, but he will not have much power. His base will be the proposed new London authority, but it will not provide the main services. They will be provided by local councils, so the real power will still lie with the 32 London boroughs and non-elected officials of central Government. In short, the new mayor will be nothing other than a ribbon cutter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) has said, it is a recipe for instability.

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) used the GLC, rightly or wrongly, as the political base for his views rather than as a provider of services. Given that the new proposed authority will have even less power than the GLC, the new mayor will be sorely tempted to play the same game. The old GLC had a budget of more than £1 billion and 20,000 staff, yet, today, it is hard to find anything that it did which needed doing. The only thing that a new Greater London authority will create as it thrashes around trying to find a role for itself is more jobs for bureaucrats. They will be funded by Londoners, who will be penalised for living in London.

The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) said that no new taxation would be imposed as a result of the proposal. I challenged him on that in an intervention and referred to the Labour Government document "A Voice for London". It refers to the type of elections that may be held and says of the new authority

I looked at the Under-Secretary as his hon. Friend said that to see whether he agreed or disagreed. I thought that his response was a rather neutral, if not negative, one. I look forward with interest to the reply from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson). I hope that she will clarify exactly what is meant by tax-raising powers. Who is right? Is it the hon. Member for Streatham or the Labour Government document?

A voice for London sounds great in principle, but will it give London the voice that it had in the early 1980s? Then, the GLC spoke out on foreign policy, nuclear disarmament and police matters, all of which had absolutely nothing to do with it. It ended up as a middleman, fighting everyone. Indeed, it fought its biggest campaign against its own abolition. About £3 million of Londoners' money was spent on that, which may have explained the 102 per cent. rates rise in the last year of its existence--some voice.

How do the Labour Government hope to carry London with them when they cannot even sell the policy to their own colleagues in local government? As the hon. Member

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for Brent, East said, the boroughs do not agree with the proposal. The Members representing London do not agree with it, and now more than half of the Labour council leaders do not support the proposal. Some have even gone further and publicly attacked it as lunacy.

The Labour leader of Barking and Dagenham, Mr. Brooker, has declared the plans for an elected mayor as nothing but a gimmick. I wonder whether the hon. Lady will clarify exactly how much that gimmick will cost. Perhaps she should also consult her colleague, the Labour leader of Merton council, now the hon. Member for Putney, who made his maiden speech today. In a newspaper article he wrote:

Mr. Brooker, the leader of Barking and Dagenham, has said:

    "The whole point of a new strategic authority for London was to give power back to elected members. This would take it away. It would be a retrograde step for democracy. Just imagine if someone like Dame Shirley Porter got the job."

Mr. Brooker obviously does not share the view of the majority of the electorate of Westminster that Shirley Porter did a superb job for Westminster. [Laughter.] Labour Members may laugh, but Dame Shirley was continually re-elected.

Mr. Dismore rose--

Mr. Ottaway: No, I do not have time to give way.

Imagine that one had Dame Shirley leading a local authority and the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, the hon. the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) as the mayor for London. The clash and conflict would be nothing but a recipe for disaster. If both the new authority and the mayor have power, political differences would mean gridlock. The relationship between elected mayor and new strategic authority is a particular aspect that we shall watch closely.

It is very early days on this subject and there are many things for all parties to consider. We shall look at the Government's proposals for London in--as on any issue--a constructive manner. Where we think that they are right, we shall agree with them. When we think that they are wrong, we shall oppose them. We do not believe that Labour needs further bureaucracy when so many successful partnerships are bearing fruit but, in view of the lobby fodder opposite, we have little choice but to sit back and watch from the wings.

There will, I believe, come a time when the new Government realise the folly of their plans. I can only restate my party's belief that London and Londoners should not, yet again, pay the price.

2.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson): It is little wonder that the people of London so resoundingly rejected the Conservative party when the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman dubs as "lobby fodder" the representatives whom the people of London returned to the House. There could be no greater example

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of the overweening contempt for London and Londoners of the previous Administration, and again today by Opposition Front Benchers. They have an absolute unwillingness to accept that the people of London should have a direct voice in the affairs that govern their lives.

All debates in the House are important, for those who are fortunate to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, give voice to those whom we are sent here to serve--the people. That is what this morning's debate was most centrally concerned with: not in this instance giving, but rather restoring to London the democratic voice that is heard in every other city in the land through a directly elected authority--an authority chosen by the people, accountable to the people and entrusted with the duty to give practical and realisable form to the aspirations of the people for their city.

Alone among the cities in this kingdom--almost alone among the capitals of the world--London and Londoners have, for far too long, been without that precious link in the chain that joins neighbourhood to community, community to city and city to country. The Government are committed to reforging that link by the creation of a Greater London authority and a directly elected mayor, if that be the will of Londoners.

This has been an important debate, with varied and valuable contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House, save for the lamentable and empty arguments from the Opposition Front Bench. All other speeches approached the debate with great seriousness, genuine inquiry and--we believe, given what we are attempting to do--genuinely helpful criticism. The right hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman), the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), and the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) all brought to the debate not only their inimitable and individual styles, but a great wealth of experience in the governance of London over many years, and, as was clear from their speeches, a genuine, clear commitment to the interests of London and Londoners.

There have been a wide range of suggestions concerning the form that the authority should take, what it should do and how it should do it. Some proposals from hon. Members go further than others. All will be considered, as will the views of Londoners and London organisations. I do not want to pre-empt what will be a major and wide-ranging consultation exercise, but I assure hon. Members that their views will be taken into account when drafting our consultation paper.

The consultation paper will be based on the principles that we have already defined. The new authority--that is, the mayor and the assembly together--will provide strategic leadership. They will not take responsibility for the delivery of day-to-day services but will ensure effective public scrutiny of the publicly funded pan-London bodies. The new authority's structure will not only minimise opportunities for conflict, but actively encourage co-operation and partnership. The overall impact on public expenditure should be neutral with set-up costs paid for by subsequent savings in the short to medium term.

The new authority will be efficient and effective, with strong leadership able to get things done. We seek to create not the GLC mark II, much as some hon. Members

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might mourn that fact, but a new form of strategic local government, streamlined in structure, focused, strongly led and capable of continuing and continuous achievement. At the heart of our approach will be our commitment to good government and local decision-making. In establishing a new authority, our purpose is not merely to make better bureaucracies, beneficial though that would be, but to introduce the democratic voice of London, thus serving to reinvigorate local government and to clarify and facilitate the process of solving London-wide problems.

In my area of responsibility, the opportunities for improving the quality of public transport services and co-ordination between transport planners, providers and users are enormous. It is hard to believe, for example, that bus operators are not directly involved in the planning and implementation of bus lanes; that, however, is true. It is hard to believe that the work of the traffic control systems unit, which manages the vital traffic signals on all London roads, is based in the City of London, funded by the Government office for London and supervised by a management board with Highways Agency and borough representatives, but again it is true. Then there is the supposed co-ordination of the London lorry ban, of air quality information and of parking policies. I could go on, but time is short.

That is the legacy that we have inherited and are committed to tackling. We are making a start, but one of the new strategic authority's key priorities will be the development and implementation of a truly integrated London transport policy, for which the people of this great city have been asking for years and which this Government are committed to deliver.

Over the years, we have become used to the Conservative party arguing against a strategic authority for London. It invariably raises the spectre of additional costs and who will pay for them, conveniently ignoring the enormous potential for reducing costs for businesses, commuters, residents--in effect, London--from an integrated transport strategy that delivers better public transport and improved journey times.

Londoners understand that those benefits outweigh any costs associated with setting up and running a slimline strategic authority. It cannot be that the case is too complex for Opposition Front Benchers to comprehend. Therefore, the rejection of the facts is yet another example of the ideological time warp in which, like flies in amber, they are trapped.

Moreover, the new authority will have oversight of many public services. There will be economies of scale arising from better co-ordination and simplified bureaucratic structures. That will mean not less money for front-line services, but economic, efficient bureaucracy. We have made it clear that the cost of running the new authority will be met within existing public spending limits, as my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), in his fine contribution--as his contributions invariably are--eloquently detailed.

There have also been arguments that policy co-ordination in the capital is better done by central than by local government. The experience of Londoners over the past few years fails to support that line of argument. If everything is left to Ministers, London inevitably takes second place and the results are here for everyone to see. Londoners are best placed to run London. Elected Londoners will do it even better.

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My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, who has responsibility for London, referred to the fact that a number of people, some strongly linked with the previous Government, are now so converted to the idea of a strategic authority that they are already making public statements to the effect that they propose to stand for mayor. We are greatly encouraged by that damascene conversion. Londoners will give their view through the ballot box.

I cannot agree with the argument that London can do without a mayor or an assembly. Our manifesto made it clear that we are offering Londoners a strategic authority made up of an elected assembly and an elected mayor. That is the proposition. That is what Londoners will be asked to vote on. It is as simple and straightforward as that.

The purpose of the office of mayor is to provide a single individual with whom the electorate can identify, and whom it can hold accountable. It will provide a human face for what might otherwise be yet another faceless bureaucracy. By having been elected, the mayor will have the clear support of the people of London in what he or she does. At all costs, we must avoid appointing leaders who come to power as a result of some secret deal in a smoky back room. The fact that the mayor will have been elected will add to his or her status rather than weaken it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) expressed concern on that subject in his own inimitable way. Concerns have been voiced that the establishment of a powerful mayor for London could lead to problems of corruption. Inevitably, to be effective, the mayor must be a powerful individual with a strong public mandate. However, the mayoralty will be matched by a powerful elected assembly to hold the office to public account.

We are committed to establishing a mayor and an assembly to work together for the good of London. We are also eager to establish a system of checks and balances to ensure that both are publicly accountable for all that they do.

The proposed GLA offers an opportunity for a new form of local government, and the many detailed contributions from both sides of the House on its structure, membership, size and composition, as well as on the means of election to it, show that the proposal has clearly not only stimulated consideration on the practicalities, but fired the imagination in presenting the prospect of the first London government of the 21st century.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), in his maiden speech, referred to county hall, to which many people have a strong attachment. However, a suitable location for a new authority and mayor must be carefully considered, and all options will be examined to ensure that London gets the best possible value for money.

As I have said, this has been an excellent debate in the main, not least because of the notable contributions made by hon. Members engaged in that most frightening of experiences, the delivery of one's maiden speech. My hon. Friends the Members for Romford (Mrs. Gordon), for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), for Putney (Mr. Colman) and

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for Ilford, North (Ms Perham) all made valuable and interesting contributions, as did the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey).

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) referred to the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), and I share his perplexity as to whether the word "maiden" can be considered an accurate definition of the right hon. Gentleman's contribution. I was tempted to add the word "aunt", to make the description "maiden aunt", but that sounded somewhat pejorative, so I shall leave it as it is and consider it afresh.

I want to stress the fact that, although the Government have mapped out the basic principles that will define the size, shape and role of the new authority, when we say that we shall consult extensively on the details, that is precisely and accurately what we mean. Many of today's contributions have helped to clarify the directions in which we should explore, and individual contributions are valuable bases on which to build in the future.

We are determined to establish a new authority that has the support of the people of London, is relevant to their needs and does not reflect sectional interests. We shall provide an elected assembly and an elected mayor to work together to tackle the problems facing the capital and to promote the city at home and abroad. Together, they will maintain London's leading position in the world and ensure its sustainable development into the next century. That is what we have promised to do, and that is what we shall do.

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