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Mr. Raynsford: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that no such telephone conversation occurred. If he reads the letter--the Committee deserves to have it read--he will see that it says:

That is the clear view: the Opposition proposal does not command the support of the majority of boroughs, on whose behalf they are supposedly arguing.

Mr. Ottaway: The Minister has pre-empted my next point. I had a look at the nature of the consultation conducted by Lord Harris among the ALG and its membership and found that that view was not mooted in the ALG. It popped up at the leaders' committee several months ago. No vote was taken and there was no debate. The truth is that that letter is not worth the paper it is printed on.

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We propose that the assembly be made up of representatives of the London boroughs. That sound and solid proposal would avoid the conflict described by the hon. Member for Putney and the gridlock described by the majority of Labour party leaders in London.

Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North): I am concerned about the Conservative party proposal for using representatives from the boroughs, which would make 33 members. A deputy mayor would be extra. Labour Members are going for a streamlined authority of 25 members. How does the hon. Gentleman justify the extra cost? The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) talked about more politicians and bureaucrats. Are not Conservative Members worried about bulking out the bureaucracy?

Mr. Ottaway: I find it hard to follow the hon. Lady's argument. As I understand it, assembly men will be paid. Although that is not in the Bill, and we have not had any word from the Minister, it is the general impression. There may be a financial saving, unless the hon. Lady is saying that the leaders of the London boroughs are paid more than the assembly men. We need to think through whether there will be more expense, and I venture to suggest that our proposal will be cheaper. The leader of Hammersmith council is trying to pay himself £40,000 a year, but Conservative Members would not support that.

Mr. McNulty: There was Conservative support.

Mr. Ottaway: The Conservatives did not support that; they voted against. As a result, the salary will be reduced to £22,000 from next year.

The advantage of the assembly consisting of borough leaders is that the borough representative knows what is going on in his borough. He would be the bridge between the man in the street and the mayor. The Minister has said that the proposal will not work. His concept is that, once elected, assembly members should think strategically and have no regard for borough interests. He does not want them pushing forward their case at local level, but wants them to think of London as a whole. That is complete twaddle. It ignores human nature, but, even worse, it is an attempt to rewrite the democratic process.

Does the Minister honestly think that constituency members will not argue their case? A feature of the Labour-dominated London fire and civil defence authority is that it is always cutting the number of fire appliances on the streets. Having recently closed a fire station in my constituency, it is seeking to close another.

Does the Minister honestly believe that the assembly member for Croydon and Sutton would not lobby to keep such a fire station? Does he think that the assembly man for Greenwich and Lewisham would not have something to say about a proposal for a major development in Greenwich, or does he really think that the assembly man would stand back and think strategically? Does he think that constituency members on the police committee would not fight against closure of police stations? If he does, he totally misunderstands human nature. His only argument against an assembly of borough leaders is that they will fight their corner. Whoever is in the assembly will fight their corner.

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6.45 pm

The Bill confirms that the assembly will be enfeebled. Other than supplying the chairmen and members of the four functional bodies, and other than in the unlikely event of a two-thirds majority opposing a mayoral budget, it will be essentially powerless and useless. The assembly is superfluous and likely only to add to the mayor's problems and the degree of bureaucratic entanglement generated by the new system.

That could be easily overcome by recognising the strength, importance and role of the London boroughs in the overall government of London and by having an assembly made up of borough representatives. London is a city of villages. The boroughs are the voice of the villages and the Minister ignores those voices at his peril.

Mr. Edward Davey: I shall comment briefly on the Conservative amendments and what the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) has said. The Liberal Democrats certainly do not support his idea of the assembly being made up of borough leaders, for a number of reasons. First, borough leaders have something else to do--run their boroughs.

Mr. Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Our amendment provides for an assembly of borough representatives rather than borough leaders.

Mr. Davey: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's clarification, but in other debates the Conservatives have suggested that borough leaders would make up the assembly. Borough representatives would presumably be elected councillors, if there is to be any element of democracy. Even an ordinary ward councillor has an awful lot to do, or should be doing an awful lot, for his constituents, who he has been elected to represent.

Asking people to represent their constituents in two different places would reduce their ability to hold the mayor to account. We want to ensure that the mayor is held properly to account. That should be done by elected members, whose sole job it would be, which would ensure that the assembly has more power. The Conservative amendment would reduce the power of the assembly and reduce the ability of its members to hold the mayor to account effectively, which is a dangerous path to take.

The idea that borough representatives would take experience of what they do in the borough up to the assembly does not wash. The assembly will do different things primarily. The hon. Member for Croydon, South said that some borough powers are taken away by the Bill. That is true, and we shall return to the matter, but relatively few powers are being taken to the assembly. The assembly and the authority will focus far more on other issues--transport and the police in particular--so it is just as well that other people with a different mandate have the job of considering those issues.

I agree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who seemed to be worried that borough representatives would form a parochial Greater London authority. I share his concern, and I know that the Government are also concerned. Assembly members must be able to take a strategic overview. That will lead to better government for London, not worse.

The point made by the hon. Member for Croydon, South about the need for liaison between the boroughs and the GLA was well made, but it is debatable whether

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it needs to be in the Bill. The boroughs, collectively, will want to liaise and consult with the GLA. Perhaps the Committee should be debating whether such an obligation should be in the Bill. Although that is not the main thrust of the Conservative amendment, it is an interesting point and I hope that the Committee will return to it.

Our amendments seek to increase the number of assembly members by increasing the number that would be elected from constituencies and the number on the list. Our vision of London government differs slightly from the Government's, as we believe in a much stronger assembly that would be both more democratic and have more powers. In our response to the Government's consultation, we made it clear that we felt that the Greater London authority should have a voice in the running of the health service and further education in London. Further education and health are functions with a strategic characteristic, and it would make sense for a strategic body to be able to hold health and education authorities to account.

Given that our model would oversee a much larger budget than the Bill proposes, it is important to have more assembly members to fulfil those tasks effectively.

Mr. Forth: As the hon. Gentleman develops his argument for an increase in the number of representatives, and before we are asked to decide on the merits of the case, will he give us his estimate of the increase in the cost to London taxpayers of that level of representation?

Mr. Davey: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point: the House should always consider the cost of proposals before it. If he reads the amendments he will see that we propose to increase the number of representatives from 25 to 40--an increase of 15. The Conservative party wants an increase of eight. The costs involved are not huge. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Liberal Democrats did not want a mayoral office to be created. Were that option before us today, a huge sum could be saved, allowing us to have even more members of a proper assembly. The mayor is an expensive element because of all the trappings of mayoral office.

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