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Mr. Davies: If the hon. Gentleman's statement that abolition of the GLC was in the Conservative manifesto is found to be incorrect--I believe that it was not a manifesto commitment--will he make a formal apology for misleading the Committee?

Mr. Ottaway: If I am not correct, I shall withdraw my remark--that goes without saying.

It was no surprise that London's economy took off shortly after the abolition of the GLC, and has been sustained ever since. However, with hindsight, there is possibly another reason why abolishing the GLC was the right thing to do.

London is a city of villages. All of its boroughs have a different complexion. Historic Greenwich, with its cultural centres, is very different from the Manhattan skyline of Croydon, with its focus on the business community. Both areas have their problems--deprivation, unemployment and poor services--but each has its strong points, and its own identity and approach. That local identity is represented by the boroughs.

In place of the GLC, the London boroughs, as unitary authorities, have been strengthened. In all honesty, some boroughs are better run than others. However, there is no doubt that every borough is run better than it was run under the old GLC regime. The reason is clear: each borough has its own notion of its community's aims and objectives. The parameters for councillors and officers are clearly defined: it is their patch and they know how to get on with it.

That is why London is the greatest city on earth. One could not find another city that has such a rich heritage and so wide a variety of cultures. One could not hope to find another capital that is so full of good humour, civilisation and energy. London is an economic powerhouse, an artistic showcase and, above all, an incredibly creative, tolerant and free-spirited town in which to live.

The Conservatives are the first to recognise that the world has moved on since 1986. It is a fast-moving, media-driven world and we are the first to acknowledge that we have developed our view about the need for co-ordination in London. However, we believe in a much lighter touch than do the Government or the Liberal Democrats, who take an even more heavy-handed approach. On Second Reading, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and

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Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), described our vision for London as "thin gruel". Despite the way in which he made that remark, I suggest that there is nothing wrong with thin gruel--indeed, the hon. Gentleman will find it on the menu of most breakfast emporiums because it is healthy.

We believe that our approach and our vision for London, involving a lighter touch and the mayor co-ordinating the London boroughs, is far more in tune with what London needs. To that extent, the ultimate challenge for the mayor will lie in his ability to co-ordinate the London boroughs. That relationship with the London boroughs is our greatest concern, and it is a factor that we shall address in subsequent amendments. We believe in an authority in which the mayor is able to input London's needs at Cabinet level and to sell London internationally. However, we are concerned that the mayor is not being given any real freedom to manoeuvre.

The Secretary of State retains ultimate powers of override in every key area. The all-embracing power of clause 27 allows the Secretary of State to prevent the mayor from doing anything he wants. A complete straitjacket of reserve powers governs policy and action. Another major concern is that the mayor and his office will set up a ministerial rather than a local government model. The mayor will not have to disclose the material that is used to brief him when making decisions, nor will he have to give evidence to the assembly.

The mayor will have great patronage through his appointment to various functional bodies and sway over planning and development issues. However, his decisions will not necessarily be debated in public, be open to scrutiny or subject to clear, open and independent financial and legal advice as would occur under the normal local government regime that every council operates. None the less, we support the principle of the mayor, and it logically follows that we support the principle of an authority. We have many suggestions to make about the conduct of the authority and the way in which that can be approved. However, so that the debate can develop we accept that the clause should stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Raynsford: The purpose of the clause is simple and straightforward: it establishes the Greater London authority and, in doing so, rectifies an historic injustice done to London in 1986.

The Bill restores a democratic, citywide government to London, so the people of London will once again be able to elect their own authority--their mayor and their assembly--to represent them. They will no longer be dependent on the wishes of Cabinet Ministers, shadowy quangos, joint boards and other unaccountable bodies, which, for the past 13 years, have ultimately made the key decisions about the future of our capital city.

The Bill also provides for the authority to have the functions that are transferred to, conferred on or imposed on the authority by this Bill or any other.

The Government were elected on a promise to create a new authority for London. We set out our proposals on how we would honour that promise in our White Paper in March last year. We submitted that White Paper to the people of London in a referendum last May and they

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voted yes by a majority of 72 per cent. The Bill gives effect to the proposals set out in the White Paper endorsed by the people of London.

Some hon. Members have revealed that they still hanker after life in the past. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) clearly does not want to believe what has happened in 1997 and 1998. I know that it is painful for him, but the world moves on. He is no longer part of a large majority on the Government Benches; he is in opposition. The people of London voted overwhelmingly for Labour Members in the 1997 general election.

Mr. Forth: No they didn't.

Mr. Raynsford: They did. They voted for 57 Labour Members and only 11 Conservatives in 1997. That was a decisive victory for the Labour party.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Does the Minister recall that, a year after the abolition of the Greater London council, 57 Conservative Members were returned in London?

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman could not have made my case better. It is a measure of how the people of London have changed their view about who should represent them in Parliament that we now have an overwhelming majority of Labour Members. The fact that the people of London are keen to have their own citywide authority again is demonstrated by the fact that such a large majority of them voted in the referendum in Bromley, in Hillingdon and in every other London borough. Whatever the wishes of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, his electors gave a majority vote to our proposals.

Listening to the right hon. Gentleman, I felt sympathetic to his proposition that there should be fewer politicians. We are giving effect to that. We are creating a small, streamlined authority consisting of a mayor and 25 assembly members for a city of 7 million people. One will not find a more streamlined, cost-effective, democratic assembly anywhere in the world. This is a model of non-bureaucratic administration.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the Minister for his sympathy, which I shall cherish for a long time to come. How can he argue that there will be fewer politicians in London as a result of the Bill? Fewer than how many? Today, we know how many politicians are being carried on our shoulders and are spending our taxes. Surely the Minister must accept that if the measure is passed, there will be more politicians and bureaucrats in London. How can he conclude otherwise?

Mr. Raynsford: The right hon. Gentleman obviously cannot remember the size of the GLC, which he so disliked. We are proposing an authority that is approximately a quarter of the size of the GLC. As I have stressed to him, this will be the smallest, most streamlined authority of any major city in the world. It will be an example of good, efficient administration, not a bureaucratic organisation.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has gone back over ground that we covered on Second Reading. He would like to use

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the term "regional" to describe the body that we are creating, but that is not appropriate. As the capital city of our country, London is unique and it requires a unique solution. It is going to have a unique solution--a citywide authority. Regions outside London will require their own model. The hon. Gentleman recognised that there was a difference between the kind of pattern appropriate in a densely occupied city with a large population and that which applies in other regions which are a mixture of rural and urban areas.

4.30 pm

The Government are committed to moving towards directly elected regional government, where there is popular support for it. The creation of voluntary regional chambers in the regions outside London is a first step in that direction, but the proposals in the Bill are not intended to be a template for regional patterns of government elsewhere. They are intended to meet the specific needs of London for effective government in London.

We are trying to respond to the needs of London. The legislation sets out a new form of governance which recognises the need for a strategic overview in the design and implementation of policies which will affect the lives of more than 7 million people. It will be a Greater London authority, not a regional authority.


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