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7.30 pm

The great Lord Slim, commander of the 14th Army in the second world war, wrote in an essay after he had ceased to be an active soldier, that it was characteristic of the British Army that it was always required to fight uphill, and always required to fight at the juncture of two or more maps. The logic of that was that the strategists did not place the Army in the best possible position in which to fight a war. One of the characteristics of charity law nowadays is that trustees are supposed to exercise strategic roles and to guide their charities towards long-term aims. In my experience, however, on every charity on which I have served the trustees have become enormously preoccupied with local detail, and they do not, except in very large charities, fulfil that strategic role.

The party list system will cause those who choose candidates to mark people on how strategic they are being. It is also true, however, that if one wishes to be elected or re-elected to anything, one must have a public persona. It would surprise me if those who serve on the London assembly do not seek to acquire a public persona through their actions. I am not convinced that nimbyism will be absent under the Government's proposals.

My second point relates to our other debates on constitutional reform, such as the forthcoming debate between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. If the Lords were to seek greater powers, those powers could be taken only from the Commons. In the same way, if the Government are not to surrender powers to the mayor, the mayor can receive powers only from the boroughs. The boroughs are the check on the mayor, and will provide scrutiny of the mayor. That will necessarily involve tension, but that is no disadvantage in comparison with what the Government propose. Tension can be highly productive.

Thirdly, there is an old saying that it is sensible toturn poachers into gamekeepers. The Government's proposition in the previous set of amendments was that a gamekeeper should be turned into a poacher in the form of the deputy mayor. Whether that is sensible, I doubt. We shall later analyse the assembly's powers to hold the mayor to account, and I shall be surprised if those powers turn out to be other than fairly sparse.

Fourthly, it is paradoxical that the Government are seeking in many other ways to devolve powers to local authorities. In the context of the government of London,

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the Government expressed enthusiasm in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 for the idea of involving local authorities in working with the police on better policing and on prevention of crime. That is good, but the logic is that the consultative responsibility for the police should be taken down to local authority level, and that is a subject that we may consider later in the Bill's passage. It is curious that all sorts of matters are being moved towards local authorities, but that the London local authority is not considered appropriate to fulfil the role for which the amendment presses.

Finally, the Association of London Government has been kind enough to send all hon. Members advice on the clauses before us. It states:


I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South for having devised an amendment that responds so admirably to that desire.

Mrs. Lait: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, because Bromley was the borough that took on the Greater London council's "Fares Fair" policy. Residents of Bromley still have concerns about the possible overweening power of an elected authority over the borough. The assembly will be responsible for transport, and that includes the underground. There are, of course, no tube stations in Bromley, and residents will closely examine any expenditure on the tube in case it disadvantages Bromley in any way.

That is one reason why I support the amendment to allow representatives of the local authorities to make up the assembly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) drew a parallel with the role of Members of the European Parliament and the way in which their interests are parochial when they wish to get into the local paper. There is a further parallel with the Council of Ministers, which is made up of elected Members of Parliament who become Ministers who are nominated to sit on the relevant Council. The amendment is precisely analogous.

I stand to be corrected, but I am not aware of the Labour party having put forward proposals to amend the treaty of Rome to change the system of the Council of Ministers. I should feel more convinced of the Government's desire to have an elected assembly if they would move towards an elected Council of Ministers in Europe, which would be an interesting constitutional upheaval. I shall go no further down that route, but I draw the parallel: the Council of Ministers is the authoritative body in the European Union, and if we are to have a truly authoritative body to run London, a nominated authority could be most effective in truly representing the voters and in knowing what the voters want.

I have lived both north and south of the river, and I can agree and disagree with what has been said about disagreements between the two. It all depends on what the issue is. To say blithely that there is no continuity of interests in the geographic areas around London is to fly in the face of reality. There is no reason why we cannot have a truly effective authority, which the Government want, by having a representative authority rather than an elected one.

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Mr. Randall: The debate seems essentially to be about whether the emphasis of the strategic authority will be on constituency links, or, to put it in the more denigrating way that many hon. Members have put it, parochial matters. The Government appear to believe that the only way in which to make the authority strategic is to move away from the constituency link, although the directly elected members will, despite the largeness of their areas, retain a vestige of the link.

I fervently believe in the constituency link. It is important to Members of Parliament, and it would be equally so for members of the assembly. That is not so say that I, like other hon. Members, cannot take the strategic view--if that is the correct buzz word. To be more old-fashioned about it, I would say that I put my country first, then my constituency and then, somewhere lower, my party. I do not understand why representatives from the boroughs could not put London first, their boroughs second and their party interests at the bottom of the list.

I take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). I do not understand why the has-beens and the never-will-bes would be sent to such an important assembly. Occasionally, one is put on committees--I may have been on some myself--that are not necessarily for the high flyers and I am sure that I have a long and distinguished career ahead in such committees, but surely the boroughs will send their best people to ensure that they are represented in the way that they want.

Unlike some Labour Members, notably the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), I concede that there should be much debate on the subject. There is a measure of consensus. If the Government are so unhappy about having nominated representatives in the boroughs, perhaps they will consider the possibility of directly elected members to represent boroughs rather than those larger and strangely tied together areas. For that reason, if our amendment is not accepted, I hope that the Government will consider maintaining some stronger form of constituency link than is proposed because that is the very basis of our democracy here.

Ms Glenda Jackson: This has been a fascinating debate, with some remarkable contributions. The speech by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) was surprising. In the beginning, he said that the Opposition believe in a mayor, sliding over the fact that that was a major U-turn on the part of the Conservative party. In fairness however, he barely got into his stride when his right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) leapt to his feet. As a former Secretary of State for the Environment, he was much concerned at what he perceived to be a gross intrusion on the part of the mayor and the assembly in the boroughs' desires to create a strategy to remove their waste. He thought it appalling that individual boroughs should have to consider their neighbouring boroughs. That was from a member of a previous Administration who had permitted Westminster council to stop moving its waste by the River Thames and allowed it to move it by road with never a thought for the additional pollution that it put on the roads of Westminster's neighbouring boroughs. One reason why the boroughs welcome our proposal so warmly is because they and Londoners are crying out for a proper strategy for waste, recycling and improving our environment.

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The basis of the argument put by the hon. Member for Croydon, South was that the best way to ensure that the assembly meets the needs of Londoners is to appoint one. Initially, he suggested the leaders of the 32 boroughs--I presume that he would have included the City of London, thus making it 33. He then changed to a representative of the boroughs, but proceeded to rubbish the boroughs--be they leaders, representatives or councillors. He was much exercised over a letter that my hon. Friend the Minister for London had occasion to read to the Committee, which he had received from our noble Friend Lord Harris and the Association of London Government.


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